Social media platforms and tools affect leadership in congregations and organizations. Yes—there are skills involved in using social media but beyond the skills, they have significant implications for how leadership roles need to evolve. Understanding the relationship between social media and leadership is new territory. That’s why I grateful to Lianna Levine Reisner and Lisa Colton, two pioneers in social media and their place in congregations, who explore this issue in their essay below as part of the Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education project.
Network Organizing: Rethinking Communal Leadership for Rabbis
By Lianna Levine Reisner and Lisa Colton
Today we are witnessing massive shifts in demographics, culture, and behavior. Our young people are global citizens, individually empowered through rapidly evolving technologies, and increasingly capable of designing and customizing their own experiences. As NYU professor and author Clay Shirky states, all of this means that “organizations no longer have a monopoly on organizing.” As the Pew Research Center’s 2013 report “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” illuminated, so many Jews today are proud to be Jewish while simultaneously rejecting the institutions of Jewish life.
As representatives of the Gen X and Millennial generations, committed both personally and professionally to Judaism and to strengthening Jewish communal life, we see a need for rabbis to understand, embrace, and become skilled at leading networked communities. Working on the ground in both Jewish and secular settings, we have seen and experienced how a networked approach to community leaves a profound impact on people as they find purpose and become strengthened through trusting relationships and collaboration.
As those in our generations (as well as those who are older and younger) seek to create meaning and build connections, Jewish leaders must question longstanding values and basic assumptions about how we lead, manage, and relate to individuals and families within our communities. To remain relevant centers of Jewish life, we believe organizations and their leaders will need to embrace contemporary values such as openness/connections (vs. privacy/distance), collaboration (vs. competition), and subjectivity (vs. objectivity). They must also recognize that their job is not simply to maintain institutions, but instead to lead and strengthen communities with shared mission and purpose. This will require reinterpreting the models we have inherited from the past, building new professional skills, and experimenting with new approaches. We invite rabbis to see our current moment in time as a phenomenal opportunity for regeneration and empowerment of our communities.
Unlike the spiritual leaders of many other faiths, rabbis are not considered to have special intermediary powers between God and the people, but rather to be communal leaders working among the people with divine lessons and wisdom. What does it mean to lead a community, and what skills does one need to do so effectively today? Community leadership does not stem from a graduate degree, a job title, or assigned responsibility. Leadership is not about power or authority alone; it requires vision, goal setting, collaboration, and the ability to inspire and guide a group of people toward shared goals and purpose. What exactly those goals and purpose are may vary from one community to another, across denominations, or based on the organizational setting in which one works. But a common thread across all of these is the ability to create connection, cohesion, and momentum among a group of people. This is neither pushing from behind nor pulling from the front, but rather organizing from within. (more…)