Leadership On the Spot
Shoshana Friedman is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Class XXII and studies at the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. She can be reached at shoshana email@example.com.
Mordy Walfish is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Class XXII and the Assistant Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive (www.bjpa.org) and an MPA candidate in Nonprofit Management at New York University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past WGF Winter Institute, many members of class XXII expressed a desire to be having conversations about controversial issues in the Jewish community. While the curriculum set out by the Fellowship was enriching, it did not leave room for this dialogue. On the last night of the Institute, I (Mordy) articulated to a small group of class XXII my idea: Instead of following our instructors’ plan, we would use the last class session to start having the more difficult conversations. I (Shoshana) expressed an interest in joining Mordy to help design a productive final session.
Other class members present noticed that the two of us bring different energies and hold different roles in our class. Our classmates thought that together we would make an effective leadership team. For the next few hours, we found and spoke with almost every member of class XXII to get their buy-in. We held many impromptu meetings before the meeting, some in small groups huddled on the floor of the lobby, and some standing while eating our dessert. Some members of our class had more to say than others, but almost everyone had the opportunity to weigh in.
Taking the concerns and ideas of our classmates into account, we crafted an hour and a half program that would use the time quite differently than our instructors had envisioned, but would allow us to begin to talk about the trigger issues. With a combination of prompts, individual reflection, small group sharing, and full group discussion, we succeeded in beginning a deep, raw, and fruitful conversation that our class will build upon in our future time together.
We learned a few key leadership lessons in this experience:
- Effective partnership: When making change in a group, find a partner who holds a different and complementary position within the group.
- Meetings before the meeting: Hold as many as necessary to hear and address concerns and ideas of constituents.
- Speak to those directly affected by the change so that they are prepared and do not feel undermined. We were able to get buy-in from one of our instructors ahead of time about the plan. At the end of the session, both instructors expressed positive feedback on the experience.