Posts Tagged ‘boards’


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

Posted on: June 22nd, 2012 by Hayim Herring

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


When Dumb Things Happen to Smart People

Posted on: October 26th, 2011 by Hayim Herring

Oops Sign

Did you ever finish a board or committee meeting that left you asking, “How could such a smart group of people make such a dumb group decision?” Pastor Landon Whitsitt explores this question in his book, Open Source Church. Drawing on the work of author James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, Whitsitt writes about diversity as one of the essential conditions needed for smart group decision-making at the church board and committee level. The same applies equally to synagogues. Yet despite sincere intentions, our committees and boards are often far too homogeneous to meet that condition.

True, organizations increasingly try to consider criteria including gender, ethnicity, income, sexual orientation and age when creating committees or adding board members. But if you really want to think about the range of criteria for diversity, look at the diagram that opens by clicking on this link.

What’s the benefit to boards of increasing their diversity? A more diverse board or committee has a greater chance at making better decisions because decisions take into account multiple and even sometimes contradictory perspectives. Diversity generates more creativity in problem solving. And, it can prevent organizations from being blindsided by an issue.

So the next time you find yourself asking the question, “How could such a smart group of people make such a dumb group decision?” look at the composition of the group. In all likelihood, the individuals in the group are already bright, accomplished and caring people. But by increasing the group’s diversity, you will find yourself smiling and saying, “Such a smart group of people and such a wise decision!”


Rabbi Hayim Herring

Who Is Your Governator?

Posted on: January 28th, 2010 by Hayim Herring

Congregational governance-what do you think of when you hear this phrase? Does the image of endless committee meetings come to mind? What about board meetings that result in squabbling? Is it clear when staff should take the lead on an issue and volunteers should? You want a true partnership between volunteers and staff, but the goal of sharing governance responsibilities seems elusive.

I’ll be writing about the issue of governance for the next several weeks, so I’ll begin with a general definition. Governance is the term that encompasses how staff members and volunteers conduct the work of the congregation with one another, with the congregation and with the broader community in a way that fulfills their legal, ethical and spiritual responsibilities.

Some congregational leaders-both professional and lay-characterize governance as the “business” side of the organization. They have an explicit or implicit understanding that staff members should steer clear of governance issues. That is a guaranteed recipe for dysfunction. The other side of the coin is when clergy members arrogate too much power for themselves, with the leadership’s tacit agreement, and undermine the governance structures in the congregation. That scenario usually ends in destruction. So if you have one person who is perceived to be the congregational “governator,” you have a problem!

High-achieving, dynamic, healthy congregations emerge from a partnership between staff and lay leaders in how they govern the congregation. And the congregational board is at the heart of that relationship. Based on my observations and experience, I will even go one step further: vital institutions are always characterized by effective board leadership, and organizations with weak board leadership will muddle through at best. My impression is that most congregational boards are just adequate. That is not to say that talented individuals don’t serve on synagogue boards-they definitely do! But, as a board, the sum of parts is less than the whole and over time, the mediocre quality of boards drives out the excellence that a board is capable of achieving.

 So take a look at your own community and assess which organizations or congregations seem to be doing relatively well. What do you know about their board leadership? How do staff and volunteers work together? Is governance transparent or is there a perception that only a few privileged individuals are involved in decision-making?

 I also want to invite you to ask your own questions about governance-what will help you raise the level of congregational governance? There’s much riding on these issues, especially in this turbulent time for organizations.


Rabbi Hayim Herring