Who Wants to be a Leader?

By 6 September, 2016Personal Blog

As the restructure process at Yeshivah Centre inches forward, and we draw closer to elections, the big question is: who will nominate to hold board positions on the new legal entities that will operate the school, shule, and other business units of the Centre? Three new legal entities will require over twenty people to put their hands up.

There are a few challenges in taking the leap from where we are now to where we need to be.

1. Despite the regular self-congratulatory pronouncements of progress and the glossy brochures, too many vestiges of the old regime remain in place, and it’s not clear how they can transition. Despite the trustees announcing that they would resign, the various incarnations of interim management committees have made several major decisions, rather than operate purely in ‘caretaker’ mode and defer some issues to their ultimate successors. Instead of an orderly transition, the absolute power of the trustees remains in place until the day they resign. That is the ‘leap’ we still need to take.

2. There is dissatisfaction with aspects of the new proposed structure (no surprises there). PFYM and others have publicly detailed its shortcomings. The GRP took the easy road and chose not to address the important issue of Rabbinic authority in their recommendations. But does that mean the proposed structure is irreparably broken even before it comes into place? Hardly. It is one step in the journey, and it will be up to the next set of leaders to change it as needed. Does PFYM plan to remain in opposition forever, or at some point will their leaders seek to effect change from within?

3. The greatest challenge to the next set of leaders relates to the very rapid cultural and environmental changes that have, in a way, been imposed externally onto the Centre. For decades, the culture was that “we look after things ourselves”, which is a relic of the ghetto mentality that was the way Jews lived for hundreds of years – without basic rights and with hostile rulers. It features two overlapping yet distinct elements: firstly, a general distrust of government and law enforcement and secondly, that any issues were dealt with internally with little or no publicity so as not to “air our dirty laundry in public”.

The first element relates to the prohibition of ‘mesirah’ – not to report or hand over another Jew to non-Jewish authorities, and Rabbis have clearly declared that in contemporary society, this prohibition no longer applies. An important barrier to reporting offences such as child sexual abuse has thus been lifted. Or has it? I think too much has been made of mesirah as a cultural barrier to reporting (because it makes great media copy), with not enough focus on the other barriers.

Which brings me to the second and more important element: the use of publicity and the media against a community that traditionally shies away from it. In this, we’ve unfortunately gone from one extreme to another. It started with the CSA scandal, and has now evolved to the point that anyone with a grievance with Yeshivah runs to the media (social or mainstream).

Leaders responded too fast to one e-mail chain and not fast enough to another? There’s an AJN story and editorial there! The school didn’t run the seminar on workplace bullying for all staff? Someone is suing for defamation? Your friendly correspondent at the Herald Sun is waiting for your call. No matter which faction you are part of, or who you want to shame, the media is the place to go. They will simplify and conflate issues to your heart’s content, and in the process recall every past sin committed by the Yeshivah. Mission accomplished.

We have gone from everything being a big secret, to all of our dirty laundry – even the barely soiled socks – on display for the public. Who would want to be a leader with so many protagonists out there – both internal and external – who are scrutinising every move, and looking over your shoulder (perhaps with dagger in hand), and running to the media at every excuse.

This is an environment that doesn’t encourage good leaders to step up; the most important attributes a leader needs these days are thick skin and balls of steel, rather than vision and insight. And this isn’t just a problem at Yeshivah – this is the political landscape all over the world. This is the environment that led to Clinton and Trump as candidates for the US presidency, and my comment about leadership attributes applies equally to them.

So who is up for the job? Don’t all shout at once.

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