Posts Tagged ‘assessment’


Should Leaders be Held to a Higher Ethical Standard?

Posted on: January 15th, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

If individuals lead entities in the for-profit, nonprofit or governmental sectors, should they be held to a higher standard of ethical accountability? This perennial question is worth examining,  especially when they lead powerful or influential entities that can have a direct positive or negative impact on our lives. For me, the answer is a clear, “Yes!” and there are others who have studied dimensions of leadership in some of these sectors who agree.


Jim Collins, a highly-respected leadership expert, implies that great leaders have an ethical compass. He explains in his book, Good to Great that a common trait of the rare individual who achieves “Level V Leadership,” is the executive who blends personal humility with extreme professional focus on achieving a corporate vision. A Level V leader shares credit with others, accepts blame and responsibility for mistakes and surrounds himself or herself with people who are equally committed to making whatever they do better. But in that quest, they never lose sight of humility, which is another way of saying that their pursuit of excellence embraces the demand to treat team members with dignity.



Another leadership framework is “the triple bottom line” (TBL). The TBL, developed by business consultant Andrew W. Savitz, measures three dimensions of performance: people, planet and profits. In other words, unlike traditional reporting frameworks which focus only on profits and shareholder value, the TBL “captures the essence of sustainability by measuring the impact of an organization’s activities on the world… Including both its profitability and shareholder values and its social, human and environmental capital” (Savitz, The Triple Bottom Line). While there is disagreement on how to calculate the TBL, it clearly includes ethical dimensions, because it strives to account for the impact on the environment and on improving people’s lives through measures like job growth, personal income and the cost of underemployment in creating sustainable companies.


Leaders in government should also be expected to be ethical individuals. Yes, they must make complex choices in which moral values are sometimes in conflict with one another. For example, taking military action, which will cause the loss of life, but preserves the freedoms that we enjoy, or creating jobs that lift people out of poverty while also considering the potential impact of environmental destruction, can make the needle on one’s inner ethical compass spin around opposite poles. But, but having an ethical compass is a minimal requirement that we have the right to expect from officials whom we elect.


Whether in government, the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and in the spiritual realm, leaders have flaws. They also have and need egos–that is what enables them to pursue greatness. But whether their egos are directed to their own aggrandizement or to grand ideas that benefit others is what distinguishes an unethical leader from an ethical leader. And amoral leaders, those who do not take ethical considerations into account, ultimately become immoral leaders because the benchmark of their success is concluding a deal at any and all costs.


Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen some mutual convergence of ideas around leadership in the for-profit and nonprofit communities. One of those ideas is that morality matters both in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. For-profit leaders are being held to a higher standard-just look at what is happening with startups like Uber, or established corporations like Wells Fargo, that are now under fire for highly unethical business practices. And it’s no accident that Facebook and other global social media giants and Apple, a company that dominates the smartphone and tablet industry, are facing criticism about their passive, hands-off approach to how people use their products.


Religious leaders rightfully come under fire for cloaking themselves with a mantle of morality while engaging in sexual and financial predatory practices. Simply because a person is a religious leader is no longer a guarantee that he or she possesses a moral compass. We feel a special outrage when individuals who are supposed to embody the highest ethical dimensions of human behavior fail themselves and hurt others.


And for those who are familiar with the Bible, Moses, one of the great spiritual leaders of all times, learns that there are no privileged moral dispensations—without exception. (Memo to religious leaders: don’t forget daily Bible study, preferably with someone who has internalized relevant ethical teachings.) Despite his bravery in challenging the status quo by confronting Pharaoh, an act that continues to inspire moral leadership today, and Moses’s 40 years of leadership in harsh desert conditions with a generation of unruly people, he is punished for disparagingly referring to them as a group of “rebels” (Numbers 20:10).


That punishment seems unduly harsh. Perhaps even more severe, his brother, Aaron, who at that moment is only standing silently by his side, is also disqualified as a leader. Though considered exceptionally humble, Moses’s singularly arrogant rebuke invalidates his leadership and it his successor, Joshua, who will lead the people into the promised land. Here is an exceptionally high standard of morality at work: great leaders cannot ridicule their communities. They may demonstrate contrition and make restitution where possible, but because they are expected to embody high ideals, once they behave unethically in such a public manner, their actions communicate that ethics don’t matter, a message that can potentially normalize unethical behavior throughout a community.


When you build yourself up by putting others down, you’ve lost your ability to lead. When you remain silent in the face of leaders who disparage others, you also forfeit the right to lead. And don’t give up in thinking that’s an impossible standard to which to hold leaders in any sector. Perfection from leaders? No– that’s an impossible standard. But we can and should expect them to struggle to be moral, compassionate and respectful of every person. Argue robustly over principles and beliefs, engage in debate about what is most beneficial to community and country, but set a tone that attacks the merits of ideas, and not the quality of the people who espouse different points of view.



Three Kinds of Stubborn and their Implications for Leaders

Posted on: January 30th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

When I was growing up, some members of my family used the phrase, “stupid stubborn” to refer to obstinate individuals. I confess – they often looked at me when they were discussing those who were “stupid stubborn!” As we’ve been reading about the triangle of Moses, the Jewish people and Pharaoh in the weekly Torah cycle, I remembered this phrase. Why? Because each part of the triangle displays stubbornness. And then I realized that the phrase “stupid stubborn” implies that there may be other varieties of stubborn. I’d like to identify and define three different kinds of “stubborn” that have significant implications for leadership.

Stupid stubborn: arrogance in refusing to accept destructive behavior that you bring upon yourself and those around you. This definition of stubborn applies to Pharaoh.

Stubborn in the Torah

Despairing stubborn: fatalism that limits your ability to imagine a better world and reinforces your belief that a negative status quo is permanent. This definition of stubborn applies to the Jewish people.

Optimistic stubborn: certainty that the world can change with a powerful vision of a better future,  and tenacity to maintain that optimism despite current evidence to the contrary. This definition of stubborn applies to Moses.

Stubbornness appears in different varieties. This quality can be both disabling or empowering. It depends upon the ability of a leader to harness the positive aspects of persistence in working faithfully toward a more hopeful future. As a teenager, perhaps I periodically displayed aspects of a “stupid stubborn” personality. But I’ve learned that optimistic stubborn is far more powerful and uplifting.

Fanatic Focus vs. Distraction Disorder

Posted on: June 30th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments


I recently read an article, “Feeling More Antsy and Irritable Lately? Blame Your Smartphone.” One of its authors, Nicholas Carr, noted: “Back in 2006, a famous study of online retailing found that a large percentage of online shoppers would abandon a retailing site if its pages took four seconds or longer to load. In the years since then, the so-called Four Second Rule has been repealed and replaced by the Quarter of a Second Rule. Studies by companies like Google and Microsoft now find it takes a delay of just 250 milliseconds in page-loading for people to start abandoning a site. ‘Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,’ a top Microsoft engineer said in 2012. To put that into perspective, it takes about the same amount of time for you to blink an eye.”


If he’s right that means many of us have attention spans about as long as the blink of an eye!


I’m not sure if the American Psychological Association has come up with a name for our collective impatience and inability to focus, so let me suggest Distraction Disorder.






Be Entrepreneurial, Not Innovative

Posted on: January 16th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments


“Drop the quest for innovation and adopt the mentality of entrepreneurship.” That was my essential message to of a wonderful group of rabbis from the Philadelphia Metro Area a few days ago. With the support of the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis, I had the pleasure of facilitating a highly interactive workshop with about 40 colleagues on Rabbinic entrepreneurship. What’s the difference between being innovative and being entrepreneurial? In my workbook (click, complete form and download) on Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life, I wrote,


“Innovation” is a catchphrase everywhere we look, and it is often used as a substitute for entrepreneurship, but there is a difference between them:


The rabbis completed a diagnostic assessment of readiness for moving to an entrepreneurial culture (p.19 in the workbook). Then, they divided into small groups to explore how to apply ten entrepreneurial practices to an idea about which they were passionate and bring to life in their communities. This group of rabbis was very diverse. But their passion for wanting to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset was a feeling they shared—and they inspired me.


Rabbis are too often an unfair and handy target for undeserved criticism about the state of Jewish affairs. No doubt, we’ve earned some of the criticism. On the other hand, it’s also clear to me that many rabbis are ready to turn the dial on maintenance down and turn up the dial on entrepreneurship. The dynamic of public punishment of rabbis who take risks, and their reactive tendency to then play it safe, is one that each side should acknowledge and change. And when that happens, congregants, rabbis and the broader Jewish community will begin to enjoy both the rootedness of a community and the excitement of an incubator for fresh Jewish life.


If you’re interested in learning more about how your leadership can become more entrepreneurial, please contact me and let’s start the discussion! I’ve heard many of your ideas and it’s time for you to turn them into realities.



New Findings About Pew Study

Posted on: November 19th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Simplification, Complification or Obfuscation


As an experiment, this morning I searched the terms, “Pew Jewish demographic study 2013 failure” and “Pew Jewish demographic study 2013 success” on a variety of online sites. Numbers in red reflect a larger number of results.


Hayim Hayim on Pew Study

What are my conclusions from this matrix?



So I’m taking my time digesting the implications of the findings from the Pew Report, A Portrait of Jewish Americans. We’re going to feel the impact of this report for a long time. While the some of the findings are unambiguous and elicit a strong emotional reaction, those reactions don’t always make for thoughtful policy debates and decisions.


Another reason for a little more time—sometimes, demographics and trends are destiny, and other times we can’t extrapolate the future from the present. A well-known example: if Jews in the year 1900 in America or Europe had been surveyed by a highly-respected research organization about the likelihood of creating an independent Jewish state, how many would have responded that there was a high likelihood anytime soon? Yet, here’s what Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary after the first Zionist Congress in 1897: “If I had to sum up the Basel Congress in one word—which I shall not do openly—it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I were to say this today, I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years, perhaps, and certainly in 50, everyone will see it.”


Survey findings in the Jewish community are notorious for generating anxiety without clear direction (more about that in a later post….). Careful sociologists, historians and demographers are incredibly valuable in providing us with information about the present and they can extrapolate possibilities about the future. We need to pay attention to them—in many cases, if we had, we might not be dealing with some tough issues in the Jewish community today. Yet, sometimes against the logic of the data, we have to strive mightily to create the future that we want because that’s what leaders do. So unlike what happened for a variety of reasons with the 1990 NJPS and the problematic NJPS 2000-2001, a little more time for analysis, interpretation and action will serve us better as a Jewish community.


Collaborate, Communicate, Connect

Posted on: November 7th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments


New, Free, Hands-on Workbook for Synagogues


I’ve generally heard agreement among synagogue and federation leaders that congregational collaboration is a valuable endeavor. Collaboration can lead to elimination of redundant services, cost savings, better programs, etc. So, who would argue against it? If you’ve actually planned, implemented and helped sustain collaborative synagogue efforts, you know how beneficial they are—and also how much effort you have to invest and maintain in them order to make them work!


synergy - UJA Federation - Hayim HerringThat’s why I’m happy to introduce you to another resource that provides you with concrete, practical tools to support your efforts around collaboration, and strategies to increase communications, connections and meaning in your congregation. This free, download is titled, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: A Guide for Study and Action, and it’s a seven step implementation guide to some of the key ideas in my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life. In addition to collaboration, you’ll find six additional units, on topics ranging from becoming an entrepreneurial congregation to preparing for the future by better anticipating trends that may have an impact on your congregation.



From Network Judaism to Platform Judaism

Posted on: October 8th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments



In 2000, I wrote a paper called Network Judaism, later published in 2001. MySpace was launched in August 2003 and Facebook in February 2004. While not long ago at all, it’s hard to recall that social media platforms didn’t exist. But if you were tracking possible significant trends carefully, you could anticipate the potential emergence of the networked organization. What no one was able to grasp was how social media sites would be enable societal changes of major magnitude.


Today, here are a few stats on some popular social media platforms:

Facebook-1.15 billion registered users

Flickr -87 million users, 8 billion photos

Pandora – 200 million registered users

Twitter – 500 million registered

Word Press – 66 million blogs

Angie’s list – 2 million users

Yelp – 12 million users per day

YouTube-500 million visits per day


The numbers tell a story of how rapidly socially media sites have been adopted and how embedded they are in our lives. Yet, synagogues, federations and other historic organizations have not shifted their structures to enable themselves to become platforms for people to connect socially, spiritually, philanthropically and educationally.


As we are now in the networked era, Jewish organizations need to shift their paradigms to a platform model. Otherwise, the great the work that many are doing around making Judaism more relevant, inspirational, meaning-saturated and beautiful will be inhibited or fail. Unlike many Jewish start up organizations that have blossomed over the last ten years, established Jewish organizations need Platform Judaism, or more accurately, platform Jewish structures.


What is an organizational platform (and I can highlight only a few dimensions in this space)? A platform is an enabling space for people to interact and act upon issues. An organization that becomes a platform enables individuals to self direct their Jewish choices and express their Jewish values within the organization’s mission. That is a radical shift from organizational leaders directing people how, when, where, why and with whom to be Jewish- in other words, the dominant paradigm of more established Jewish organizations and synagogues!


Becoming a platform is also a mindset. It means embracing the desire of individuals to co-create their experiences, opt in and opt out of Jewish life, do new things and old things in new ways-of course, within the organization’s mission. This mindset operates within the building, outside of the building, on the website, and anywhere else. It also requires a much more creative and intentional use of technologies to tell individual stories and organizational stories and a redefinition of professional and volunteer leaders’ roles, new governance models and even new professional and volunteer positions.


Most critically, restructuring as a platform requires a relentless focus on a compelling mission and purpose. When organizations can clearly define their purpose, they have the opportunity to help individuals activate their latent hunger for community, experientially educate them about the difference between a discrete cause and an enduring commitment and provide opportunities for deeper relationships that transcend Facebook-type “connections.”


Talking about organizational structure isn’t sexy. But the payoff for paying attention to it is potentially huge, enabling:


In part, I wrote my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life, to stimulate thinking around the urgency for organizations to move to a platform model. Within about two weeks, UJA-Federation of New York’s Synergy Department and the Alban Institute will be releasing a study and action guide to help synagogues and organizations practically apply the concepts of Platform Judaism, one of the central concept in Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today, to their real world settings. Then, several weeks later, the Alban Institute will be publishing a companion volume to Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today, with a deeper discussion of some of the core concepts of the book and even more practical resources. If you’ve registered for ongoing information, you’ll learn how you can access these new resources-one of which will be downloadable for free. If you haven’t, you can sign up here.


And in October, I’ll be presenting and facilitating number of sessions in Baltimore at United Synagogue’s Centennial; in Westchester, Manhattan and Long Island through UJA-Federation of New York; and the Rockland County Federation’s Rockland Jewish (Synagogue) Initiative. You can click here for more details on these presentations and if they’re in your area and open to the public, I hope that you’ll participate. Looking forward to working together with you!


Crossed posted on eJewishphilanthropy in a modified form.



Valuing Evaluation: How Shared Rabbi-Board Reviews Foster Effective Congregations

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Valuing Evaluation: How Shared Rabbi-Board Reviews Foster Effective Congregations

Photo from: Horia Varlan, on Flickr

I’m continuing to think about the nature of performance reviews as I did in my last post and will hopefully begin conducting some research about it several months from now. A number of you have already reached out to me with suggestions and stories-thank you! Here are some additional thoughts and if you have some feedback, please let me know. Also, while these posts have been about rabbis and boards, many of the ideas apply to educators, cantors, program directors-basically, everyone who is a paid “professional.”

Congregations are in the throes of disruptive change. Especially during such fundamental upheavals, lay and professional leaders express anxiety about the meaning and future of their congregations. This anxiety is neither inherently destructive nor instructive. It all depends upon how congregational leaders respond to it.

As a generalized pervasive state, anxiety erodes morale, breeds defensiveness and often leads to damaging clergy evaluations. In an atmosphere of negative anxiety, lay leaders can use a performance evaluation as a blunt object to punish clergy for their perceived inability to meet goals that are implicit, unrealistic or unshared. A process where the rabbi alone is reviewed, and not the board, is already fundamentally flawed, as it communicates that the board is not responsible for the success of the congregation.

Conversely, anxiety can stimulate a collaborative effort of clergy and lay leaders to open a real conversation about the essence of what it means to be a congregation. The strong undertow of congregational activity can sometimes pull congregations away from their fundamental work. Healthy performance reviews enable congregations to correct their course. They become a regularly calendared time when congregational leaders and staff collaboratively assess their mission and vision, and accordingly realign goals, activities and governance. Equally important, evaluations are the time to ask if the congregations stated values are alive at all levels in the congregation. Do interpersonal relationships and interactions feel coldly corporate or genuinely caring?

These authentic conversations are challenging—but, can be incredibly enriching. They are not only about “accountability,” but about gaining insight, learning and applying that knowledge going forward. They generate the powerful energy that rabbis and volunteers experience when they know that they are doing holy work. In this scenario, the review process becomes a time for celebration of past achievement and inspiration for future accomplishments.

It’s summertime-and hopefully you have a little more downtime. If you’re a rabbi or volunteer leader, and you don’t like the way evaluations are handled or if you don’t have an evaluation process now is the time to start making changes. See what resources your denominational movement has available. Talk to your peers in other congregations about ideas. But most of all make sure that you ask questions that matter. If the questions leave you feeling like you’re at your annual physical examination, then don’t matter for the review process and you can ask them at another time. But if they relate to your essential purpose and generate energy, they probably matter!

The Results Are In: Top Five Most important Rabbi-Board Evaluation Criteria

Posted on: June 22nd, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Thanks to all of those who responded to the two questions about evaluation that I asked in my prior post:

And the results are in!

The Results Are In: Top Five Most important Rabbi-Board Evaluation Criteria
survey results


Thirty-seven people responded to the first question. While I don’t have any background information on those who responded, here’s how you answered (in rank order):

  1. Develop and communicate a vision
  2. Build, inspire and lead a staff – volunteer team
  3. Identify, develop and support lay leaders
  4. Promote and lead spiritual formation for church (synagogue) members
  5. Interpret and lead change.

And for the second question about the existence of rabbi-board evaluation, to which 36 of you responded:

Clearly, more context is needed to interpret these responses. But, here are a few observations from this non-scientific survey.

Respondents value the leadership qualities that one expects of all leaders: visioning, building a team, supporting volunteer and professional talent and leading change. Unsurprisingly, helping people develop their spiritual lives also ranked within the top five criteria. Taken together, these criteria suggest that a 21st-century rabbi needs sound working leadership knowledge and ability in general, and specific expertise in helping people develop their spiritual lives. No surprises here.

But what was equally interesting to me are the criteria that ranked lower, like managing conflict. How do you lead change (ranked high) unless you know how to manage conflict? Another example: rabbis work exceedingly demanding hours and they are poor health insurance risks because of job stress and lack of self-care. However, respondents ranked rabbinic self-care as relatively unimportant for evaluation purposes. Finally, while congregations complain of declining membership, those who responded ranked congregational outreach near the bottom of the list. That may be because the phrase “mission outpost” is not synagogue nomenclature and was therefore misunderstood. But my guess is that even if it were phrased differently, outreach would still not rank within the top five criteria, because reaching out to the broader Jewish community is not something in which many congregations invest resources.

Moving onto the second question, approximately 60% of respondents reported that there is no evaluation for the board. And, about 30% said that evaluation is simply off the radarscope for the board and the rabbi. Both of these responses are problematic because having an evaluation means that there is at least some implicit vision of what constitutes success. When there is no understanding of success, that’s when misunderstanding about roles, expectations and responsibilities emerge.

I am inclined to do more research based on the feedback that you’ve provided and will keep you updated. Thanks, again, for your input!

Rabbi Hayim herring


Fresh Views on Evaluating Rabbinic and Congregational Performance

Posted on: June 13th, 2012 by Hayim Herring 4 Comments
Fresh Views on Evaluating Rabbinic and Congregational Performance

Photo: vancajay, on stock.xchng

I’m currently reading a book entitled, When Better Isn’t Enough. Evaluation Tools for the 21st-Century Church. The author is Jill M. Hudson and the publisher is The Alban Institute. The title is a bit of a misnomer and could more accurately be, Performance Evaluation for the 21st-Century Church. New Criteria for Ministers and Church Leaders. But with a title like that, why would ministers be interested in reading the book? After all, as all members of the clergy know from often-poor experience, performance evaluation, review, or whatever you wish to call it falls under the rubric of, “Never put off today what you can put off forever.”

Hudson lays out 12 criteria for evaluation. They are, the ability to:

Look at these questions! They reflect a vision of ideal attributes of a 21st-Century church. Hudson’s insight is that most evaluations are still rooted in the needs of a 20th century church and her book is about guiding lay leaders and clergy to work collaboratively on assessing their joint performance based on new criteria that better reflect the work of today’s church.

Hudson’s insight is true for the Jewish community as well. From what I’ve seen and heard, most synagogue evaluations are also stuck in a bygone era. Over the next year, my hope is to conduct some research on how congregations evaluate rabbis. I can use your help as I begin to explore this topic and would love you to respond to the questions in my Evaluating Rabbinic and Congregational Performance Survey.

Take the survey >>.

Thanks for your thoughts,

Rabbi Hayim Herring