Monday, January 9, 2012

The Rabbi as Leader and Manager

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]

While taking care of administrative tasks on Motzaei Shabbos, I listened to the opening salvos of the Republican debate. [Don't ask me why; I still live in the fantasy that somehow, magically, one of these anurans is going to metamorphose into a prince. Not a chance.] At one point, Rick Santorum declared that the President of the United States is supposed to be a Leader, rather than a Manager.

That set me thinking – What is a shul Rabbi? Leader or Manager?

For the sake of the discussion, we'll define "Leader" as someone who sets an example, acting and doing and modeling and inspiring others to do likewise. "Manager", on the other hand, is someone who enables others to use their talents, pairing people together and assigning tasks and motivating and critiquing and facilitating.

I tend to think that a shul rabbi needs to be both of these.

The rabbi is a Leader. Think of Moshe Rabbeinu, the ultimate leader - he acts, and others follow. He davens, and hopefully his davening inspires others. He reaches out to people within the community to assist them, and others see this and are motivated to follow his lead. He is a model of studiousness and scholarship.

On the other hand, the rabbi is also a Manager, like Betzalel organizing the various artisans to build the mishkan. He initiates projects, convening people to harness their talents, moving them forward, coordinating their work. The rabbi is a Manager in constructing community, creating connections between individuals and groups in order to tighten the bonds of chevra.

Unfortunately, rabbinic training, as it existed 15-20 years ago, didn't include sessions on Leadership or Management, and I think the latter role suffers for it. I sense that rabbis do succeed as leaders even without training, but I don't think management works the same way.

First, management is very challenging, a balance of צמצום (self-constriction) and direction, of praise and careful counsel and veiled criticism and unveiled respect.

Second, management requires consciousness, an awareness of what one is doing and what one is expected to do, in a way that leadership does not. I find it hard to think that a newly minted rabbi, not knowing there is a management role to play, could succeed in that capacity.

What do you think? Leader, Manager, both or neither? And need these roles be taught?


  1. As I have heard a suggestion that there should be only baitai midrash in which people get together and learn and pray and talk. No rabbis-- but rather a person in charge of keeping basic order. This I heard from a Na Nach fellow who as you probably know hold by principle that rabbis are obstacles to decency (to put it mildly). My sad experience agrees with this Na Nach thesis. Yet I am also wondering where things went wrong. To me it seems the Litvak Yeshivot used to be places of holiness and value. I really can't tell why and where things went wrong. But to be searching for different functions for a rav seems wrong. There is automatic usurpation of power and then abuse and fraud. Once yeshivot seemed to me to be palaces of justice in which value was searched for and often found. Now they seem like private clubs with the head monkey in charge of the serfs.(Sorry for the mixed metaphor.)

  2. third, it's tough to manage people who pay your salary.\
    Joel Rich

  3. Rabbis within organizations are limited by formal and informal rules that take precedence over their own wishes. They can find that they are barred, at least in part, from some important aspects of leadership or management. Some rabbis think, going in, that they can effect changes that would widen their personal scope, or orient the organization toward their personal vision. They often find out otherwise.

  4. Adam Zur,

    I'll forgive you your mixed metaphors if you stop libeling good Jews.

  5. See also Lord Sacks' piece about whether Yehoshua should "bring the people into the land" or "enter with the people into the land" -- different styles of "leadership."

    Of course for maximum job security a rabbi would be an I'll-do-it-all-myself "leader." Good management which makes a team work together well can easily be overlooked.

  6. Adam-
    And who will take care of the Jews in the world you are creating?

    Lav davka.


    Very true; doing it all is more taxing, but good management is often harder.

  7. Both, surely, but in differing proportions in different situations: large/small congregation, capable administrative staff/less so, etc.

    The really funny part of listening to Santorum expound on this topic, aside from the fact that he gave no real indication of what he thought either concept meant, is that every one of the Republican hopefuls lists Reagan as their favorite President, and he prided himself on being a Manager. Go figure.

  8. bratschegirl-
    Indeed. It's tough to come up with accurate, thoughtful answers on stage, though. At least, it comes across that way.