Reflections from a newcomer

I guess that most of those who attend leadership seminars or read Leatid blogs have an interest in leadership. I am not one of them. My only interest is in my community and to ensure the vibrancy of its future. I am an amateur with no experience to speak of who stepped forward to lead my community of 10,000 when no one else was interested. Fortunately I had a reason for doing so, time, and something to offer.

With a small team of dedicated colleagues, I wanted to rebuild the external engagement our community leadership had not recently prioritised. We have been building relationships with Members of Parliament, Council leaders, faith leaders, and other local decision makers to ensure our voice is heard in times of Middle East turmoil and when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in mainstream life. It is painstaking. But I had a plan, and an early crisis that gave me the opportunity to be immediately relevant and show that I could deliver.

And in doing so I discovered for myself the paucity of co-ordination within our community that placed our long term future at risk. With the support of the JDC, it soon became apparent that the lack of understanding of the need for a community vision, economic sustainability, effective building use, leadership succession, and risk management, put our community at far greater risk than anti-Semitism. Changing this has had to become our priority to ensure we continue to be a resilient community for many years to come.

Fortunately, being a Judge, I had the ability to listen to leaders and the led, observe and see, make my own mind up, and articulate a message that has opened a pathway to a more resilient future. With the gentle but honest support of my Executive Director who has guided me through the complexity of community life, egos, language, and timeframes, I have tried to navigate a plan for bolstering a weak, poorly funded, and anonymous Representative Council back to a position of being the central community voice leading on representation, vision, and strategy. The professional input of Leatid and the JDC has (amongst other things) helped me to see what is possible for communities of our size, and has enabled me to meet and learn from others outside the glare of my community.

And as a recipient with a blank canvas on relevant experience or expertise, (in no particular order) my reflections from an amateur are aimed at those who teach rather than those who learn.

  1. Teach that leadership matters.
  2. Impress the need to listen (especially) to the community.
  3. Keep the message simple.
  4. Bite sized chunks are easier to absorb than academic theses.
  5. Give time to reflect.
  6. One answer does not fit all communities.
  7. Each community revolves around individuals with different personalities and strengths.
  8. Impress on participants that it is ok to get it wrong in a safe space away from the community. In fact it is good to get it wrong in such a space as that helps to learn.
  9. Impress on participants that they must not to be afraid to ask.
  10. Impress the need to plan for succession.

Whilst this is not rocket science, these may not be the 10 Commandments, and they are probably well known to teachers, it sometimes helps to listen to the student to ensure the teaching is at the right level.

At the end of the day, we are all in it together, as we are a community of communities. And many of us are leaders as we were the only ones there who were willing to try. Your job is to help the coalition of the confused see through the fog of aspiration to identify a pathway to community cohesion.

Laurence Saffer

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About Laurence Saffer

President, Leeds Jewish Representative Council and Participant, Leatid Top Leaders 2017

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