I have recently been elected President of our synagogue’s Board of Trustees, a position for which I had been preparing for several years. The last couple of years leading up to my presidency, I began paying special attention to the current president, observing her leadership style and comparing it to other past presidents. And now that I have been in the role for a few months, I’m figuring out my own style and learning some valuable lessons.
First and foremost for me is learning to listen. My profession as a news reporter requires me to both ask questions and listen for answers. The goal is to seek out information relevant to the story I am pursuing, digest it and present it in a clear, balanced, fair manner. It is up to the consumer to draw her own conclusion about the information.
As a leader, I am required to listen first to my constituents’ thoughts, problems, suggestions, complaints, etc. Often what people want most is to be heard. For example, there is one older woman, recently widowed, who calls me regularly and will also pull me aside in synagogue to chat. At first I tried to avoid her, fearing criticism or complaining. But after thinking about it, I decided to dive in head on when she calls or asks to talk. What I found is that she is lonely, cares deeply about the congregation and really trusts my leadership. Now when she wants to talk I gladly spend time with her. The key for me is to just listen, ask minimal questions and when she is done, I thank her for her thoughtfulness, concern and dedication.
This practice of listening also applies to other leaders in the community. There is one particular Board member who calls often to voice his opinion, usually on a topic recently covered in a meeting. With this person, I often screen his calls because he leaves long voice messages, covering much of what he wants to discuss. He is a really nice, caring guy, but also long winded. Again, what he wants most is to be heard, so by waiting until I have sufficient time, he can get that need met. I’ve learned he is insecure about speaking up at meetings and sometimes needs a little more time to formulate his thoughts and opinions. The meetings are often fast paced, with the same few folks doing most of the talking, and he just isn’t comfortable. But I value his opinions and I am trying to encourage him to speak up more.
Just before I took office I met with my friend who was the outgoing President. She said that she thinks of congregants like her kids. Sometimes they just want comfort and to know someone is listening. She encouraged me to find my own leadership style and advised me to never forget that I am always being evaluated and observed by others. It was good advice.
What are your leadership lessons? Let us know and be watching for more of mine.
Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation. The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors. Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com. If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.
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