Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Term Limits are not Enough

In an article picked up from The Jewish Week, today’s ePhilanthropy offers Mark Charendoff's, president of the Jewish Funders Network, suggestion that term limits be imposed on Jewish communal CEOs.

He offers the following benefits. Term limits would:

1. Create a discomfort that generates vibrancy and creativity.
2. New heads of agencies would bring in new people to the board.
3. Middle management professionals would have a chance to move up.
4. Money would be saved as the rising salary of the CEO will be readjusted with the newer, younger hire.
5. Too many agencies are extensions of their CEO, change would break that up.

Generally I agree with him. Agencies do often become the CEO’s private club. Salaries seem to escalate due to years in the job rather than productivity. Middle managers abandon Jewish communal work out of frustration and lack of a living wage, to say nothing of young starry eyed entry level staff who wake up one day and decide to move into the for-profit sector where their talents will be rewarded.

But I also hear a male voice in this message; let me share a perspective that may sound feminine – a quality that Mr. Charendoff is suggesting should be added in the new leadership. Mr. Charendoff’s first suggestion is discomfort brings creativity; we need more discomfort. Has this man been around Jews?! I would say that discomfort and a lack of ease define Jews. And that discomfort has often caused people to cling to old ways. I’ve seen best work done by those who believe they have room to maneuver and know they have the support of their peers. Take a look at non-Jewish Pixar, a place where creativity flows in abundance. The “secret” is not a sense of uncertainly but rather an atmosphere of independence. The employees are permitted time to work on their own concepts. How about we get Jewish CEOs who invite their staffs to take a little chunk of time to dream their best dreams? Then put some of those dreams into action.

Will a new CEOs bring new people to the table? Some will; some won’t. I’m not sure I want the people they would bring; it could be a new set of cronies. I believe the goal is new faces, new demographics: young Jews, Jews of color, single Jews, Jews in interfaith marriages; in other words, the ever evolving face of the Jewish community. A good CEO can do this, period. However, I concede there is an expectation that with a new leader come changes. So the term limit has potential in that it creates a willingness, or at least anticipation, among staff and lay leaders that there will be changes.

Another feminine perspective, I don’t believe in “loyalty opposition;” I believe in trust that creates an openness to hearing a differing opinion. There is plenty of in-fighting already. What would cooperation look like?

Finally, I got a chuckle out of Mr. Charendoff’s making an exception for heads of family foundations. I like his honesty in pointing out that it appears self serving. This may be a case of, living in that family foundation forest it’s hard for him to see the trees. Let me suggest that he is wrong. Who needs shaking up more than a wealthy family that has come to believe their will is God? Perhaps a new CEO, one who questions their views and offers a new perspective, would be a way to get their juices flowing. Perhaps even excite and entice them to dare to try new things and to explore support beyond the dreary and deadly three year grant (one year in the current economy) into a new world in which they create a legacy by supporting some of the Jewish organizations that reach out to the fastest growing, most discomforting portion of our community, interfaith families.