Train More Capable Leaders

Make Mantle of Leadership More Attractive to Best

By David A. Teutsch

Published February 03, 2012, issue of February 10, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Executive salaries in the Jewish community — as elsewhere in both the nonprofit and corporate worlds — often correspond very little with the size, complexity or profit of their organizations. Ultimately, it is the board that determines the executive director’s salary. And though the organization’s size and financial soundness must be taken into account, it is clear that this decision is also the result of other powerfully influential factors. Understanding them better should have an effect on communal policy.

The political skills needed to head many organizations and the wear-and-tear generated by organizational politics coupled with the endless grind of fundraising and the long, irregular hours make an executive’s job considerably unattractive. Supply and demand thus have an impact on salaries.

Read the Forward’s special op-ed section on How to Handle Our 1%, including Leonard Saxe on Creating a Tax for Jewish Education, Moses L. Pava on Following Ethical Guidelines and Shifra Bronznick on Hiring and Paying Fairly.

The relatively small size of the talent pool for executive directors, school heads and executive vice-presidents is made worse by the reality that most organizations have no ongoing training programs for future top executives. Whether anyone with the right skills is available outside the organization ends up being a matter of luck. The shortage can create bidding wars.

In many organizations, the development director and the executive director are the two professionals whose work most directly affects the bottom line. Organizational success means that people in these two positions can make salary demands of a kind not available to anyone else.

The job descriptions of executive directors are often radically different from those of most of the staff members in their organizations, which is a major factor discouraging promotion from within. For most organizations, the ideal executive director would be a visionary leader with excellent political skills, someone who can provide first-rate supervision and oversee tough-minded budget creation, a person with deep understanding of the organization’s mission and how it fits into its community, a person who is an excellent fundraiser and relationship builder and, at the same time, is a mensch. These skills are not all needed by lower-level professionals, and people with this considerable list of skills are scarce.

Then there is the triangular relationship between the board, the staff and the executive. Ideally, it should be characterized by mutual trust and open sharing of information, and I know some organizations that operate just that way. But, for the most part, an absence of respect and partnership leaves staff feeling demeaned, the board unsure of its understanding of the organization and the executive director feeling like a shock absorber. People who work under these conditions deserve to be compensated for the difficulty of providing this essential but exhausting buffer.

Some executive directors have long served in their organizations, developing very close relationships with their boards. In general, that is a wonderful thing. But when that relationship is too cozy, there can be a loss of careful oversight that ensures effective, efficient operations. It also means that an executive’s salary can rise at the executive’s request because of the way he or she shapes and influences the board.

There are several things we can do to ease the shortage of first-rate executive directors. Through training, lobbying and education we can eliminate the imbalance between the number of male and female executive directors, expanding the pool of those seriously considered for executive positions. By organizational, citywide, regional and national training programs, we can grow a cadre of Jewish communal professionals capable of assuming executive director positions. Perhaps more important, we can reshape job descriptions and organizational politics in a way that makes taking on the mantle of leadership more attractive to capable people.

Fairness in hiring and compensation cannot be achieved by external regulation. It requires the considered and judicious leadership of officers and board members. It is the fiduciary responsibility of every member of every board to ensure that the issues of compensation throughout the organization are examined openly and that compensation is set fairly. If a salary or a benefit package is too high or is inadequate, it is up to every board member to discover that and do something about it.

David A. Teutsch is the Wiener Professor of Contemporary Jewish Civilization and Director of the Levin-Lieber Program in Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. His most recent book, “A Guide to Jewish Practice: Everyday Living,” won a 2012 National Jewish Book Award.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.