Successful Leadership Starts With the ‘Who’

As I walk the halls of our offices at The Jewish Federations of North America, I look at the photos of great volunteer leaders of the past: Max Fisher, Frank Lautenberg, Shoshana Cardin, Jim Tisch and Mort Mandel, to name just a few. I also view the great professionals of the past: Stanley Horowitz, Rabbi Herbert Friedman, Brian Lurie and Steve Hoffman. Our organization's legacy has been built through the commitment of our leadership.

Throughout my years at Federation, and earlier at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, I have been privileged to work with numerous Jewish communal executives and lay leaders who have dedicated their hearts, souls and talents to the Jewish community.

Some lead quietly, others more forcefully. Each motivates and inspires others to support initiatives that provide so many with so much literally and spiritually.

All have something in common: They surround themselves with strong professional teams, dedicated employees and committed volunteers. Great leaders know that people are their most valuable assets. And the best leaders know that leadership skills can be taught.

At Federation, we recognize the formula for success coined by philanthropist Mort Mandel: It is all about the "who." And throughout the Federation system and beyond, we have helped create training programs, missions and institutes that develop and empower volunteer and professional leaders.

In 2003, UJC—the predecessor to JFNA—in partnership with the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Family Foundation, strategically set up the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence to support Federations' efforts to focus on the "who" on a continental scale.

Dedicated to investing in human capital—helping our best and brightest lay and professional leaders become even more effective at what they do—the Mandel Center has since developed innovative programs for presidents and executive directors, fundraisers, volunteers and others. I-Lead, a young professionals-focused program; Fundraising University for Senior Fundraisers; Presidents and Executive Directors forums; Yesod, a lay leadership development program; and a new Chief Development Officer's onboarding program are programs offered by the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence.

Federations and, frankly, all organizations need to continually invest in people. Mort Mandel, an immensely successful businessman, spent a great deal of time analyzing and putting into action the tools for successful leadership. "The hallmark of our philanthropy," he says, "is our commitment to invest in people with the values, ability and passion to change the world."

In his book, It's All About Who You Hire, How They Lead . . . and Other Essential Advice from a Self-Made Leader, Mr. Mandel emphasizes the importance of people. Quoting former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, who said, "I don't want GE to be known as the best product factory. I want it to be known as the best people factory," he writes: "Every world-class organization is indeed a people factory because everything depends on people. All the rest is commentary.

Those people, he says, have to be the best in terms of intellectual firepower, values, passion, work ethic and experience. These kinds of employees are the A players. C players generally quit or are fired, while B players hang on—they're not so bad that you have justification for firing them, but "they can't help you win the pennant. They cheat you from achieving all you could," thus preventing an organization from soaring to greater heights.

We need those A players and their energy today, and we must treat them with the respect, consideration and appreciation they deserve.

If we are to be successful, let's remember: It's always all about the "who."

Jerry Silverman is president & CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America