Jon Levisohn is an alumnus of Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Class X. He is Assistant Academic Director of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, where he is also Assistant Professor of Jewish Education. He is the author of The Interpretive Virtues: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Teaching and Learning of Historical Narratives (Wiley Blackwell, forthcoming) and the co-editor with Sue Fendrick a Wexner Graduate Fellow, Class II, of Turn It and Turn It Again: Studies in the Teaching and Learning of Classical Jewish Texts (Academic Studies Press, forthcoming). He can be reached at email@example.com.
When R., a friend and mentor, asked me to join him in chairing the strategic planning process for my kids’ school a few years ago, I answered “yes” for all the usual reasons. I was honored to be asked, I felt deeply committed both to R. and to the institution, and I was sure that I would learn a lot in the process.
About a month later, R. called again to tell me that, for personal reasons, he could no longer co-chair the strategic planning process with me. He apologized profusely, but I was on my own. I responded that I understood, and that I would miss his wisdom and guidance, but that he should not worry; the process was in good hands. Looking back, I still felt committed both to R. and to the school, but even more than that, I imagined at some level that leadership demands the ability to carry the burden alone.
Then, after a sleepless night spent thinking about how much work was needed, and how little I knew about how to do it, I called my board chair. I told her that I was still willing to invest time and energy in the project, I was willing to co-chair the committee – but my initial response had been too hasty. I could not do it alone. I needed help.
The sky didn’t fall, and no one seemed disappointed in me. A terrific co-chair was found, we brought in outside consultants, and we moved ahead. I did learn a lot from the process, as I expected. But I learned the first lesson before we got rolling. The lesson is this: leadership is not diminished by admitting that you need help to do the job.