What a happy mix: a group of eighteen Wexner Heritage Alumni and current National Young Leadership Cabinet members from Pittsburgh, sharing a breakfast study session with Wexner faculty, Arna Poupko Fisher.  

So, how do you become a stronger leader? Arna came armed with both traditional and nontraditional texts for our discussion, and it was a thrill to see a Talmudic text, rather than, say,

Forbes Magazine, illustrate the power in risk taking.  We discussed the way in which leaders must persevere even through the most rigorous questioning.  After all, another’s questions should push a leader farther into a search for the truth and as a way towards growth and deeper questions, rather than serving as an impediment.  Another take-away we came to was the power of knowing your team. Whatever the journey, the outcome would be more meaningful and successful if there were a true connection between the leaders and those in the community.

We also looked at a passage from The New Yorker that touched on the importance of self-reflection and a passage from Peter Jarvis’s book Paradoxes of Learning.  This short but very powerful excerpt provided an opportunity for lively discussion about whether harmony or disjuncture creates more opportunity for learning, and thus progress.  Arna recognized the challenge of showing vulnerability as a leader, but suggested that not knowing all the answers can make a leader feel more like part of the greater community.  She stressed the importance of what comes after the “I don’t know.”  The follow up and learning that occurs after such an interaction brings with it yet another opportunity for learning and growth.  

When we studied our final text, from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s essay entitled “The Community,” in his book Tradition, we understood the importance of trying to welcome loneliness, isolation, or even failure, and not to deny or fear them.  From this kind of “disjuncture” in our lives could come moments of growth and improvement. Failure never seemed so positive!

As a member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet it was an honor to be included in a learning session such as this with some true “machers” in our community, as well as benefit from the opportunity to learn from such a renowned scholar.  Taking time to sit and learn together seemed to be the perfect way to making us all better leaders in our community. I will grow as I practice these lessons learned, and the experience of learning together will strengthen our communal work, I am certain. And all accomplished before 10:00 AM.

Katie Whitlatch is a friend of The Wexner Foundation. She is an active participant in the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Young Adult Division, Hillel-JUC, Hillel International, and Carnegie Mellon alumni activities.  Katie and her husband Randy are also members of the Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet.