Before I formally installed my synagogue’s Officers and Trustees to our Board of Trustees this past week ushering in the next term of service to our community, I shared with my congregation a list that I call the “18-Chai Attributes For Leadership in a Synagogue Community.” The list includes what I believe are essential moral character traits (middot) and behaviors for good, worthy and effective leadership.
I believe that these same attributes (with certain adjustments) are applicable in any organization and professional group, whether it be in business, politics, government, education, science, the arts, entertainment, or athletics.
No one person, of course, possesses them all in every matter and at all times, but the 18 represent a moral standard against which each of us ought to measure ourselves as servant-leaders.
A good leader ought to…
1. Be able to articulate the mission of the community and excite others’ imagination to manifest the mission in every aspect of the synagogue’s life;
2. Be an intent listener;
3. Show empathy, compassion and kindness towards everyone;
4. Behave ethically as a matter of personal practice, and hold the synagogue’s business and human resources practices to the highest ethical standards;
5. Show patience, control anger and frustration, and never humiliate another human being;
6. Systematically neglect unimportant issues for more important ones;
7. Accept imperfection in oneself, in others and in the community even while striving to address and correct inefficiencies and problems in the synagogue’s functioning in the most transparent way as appropriate;
8. Use intuitive-wisdom to bridge the gap between the actual and the ideal;
9. Use persuasion and good humor rather than coercion and bullying to move the community forward always with the principles in mind of derech eretz (“common decency”), shalom bayit (“peace in the home”), and respect for the opinions of others (or civility) based on Rav Shmuel’s saying: “Eilu v’Eilu divrei Elohim chayim – This and that are the words of the living God”;
10. Sublimate personal needs for the sake of the greater communal good;
11. Appreciate the good works of others and give credit generously;
12. Welcome, include and embrace all Jews and their families, Jews by-birth, Jews by-choice, non-Jews married to Jews, the young and old, healthy and disabled, intermarried, straight and LGBT, American-born and immigrants from other lands, thus reflecting the diversity that is the Jewish people itself;
13. Respect the synagogue’s unique history and traditions, policies and processes of governance;
14. Understand that change according to best-practices is good when necessary, and that for change to be realized successfully everyone (leadership, community members and staff) must be brought along even as the change occurs;
15. Be a serious student of Torah and Jewish tradition and apply tradition’s wisdom and its commitment to tzedek (justice), rachamim (compassion), emet (truth), and shalom (wholeness) to all aspects of one’s personal life and the synagogue’s life;
16. Understand the synagogue’s historic role in our people’s survival as a religion, tradition and faith, and seek to develop one’s own inner life through prayer and learning;
17. Believe in the power of the community to restore individuals to wholeness (tikun hanefesh), to restore the community to wholeness (tikun k’hilah) and to restore the world to wholeness (tikun olam) and to promote the synagogue’s program and activities towards these three purposes;
18. Stand with dignity and integrity before one’s fellows and humbly before God.