Feature Article

Who’s the Boss? Reporting Structures in Synagogues

Credit: YouTube Screenshot

By Dr. Ray Goldstein and Barry S. Mael

As featured in eJewish Philanthropy

The responses to our survey beg the question of Who’s the Boss in our synagogues.

Some of you may recall the 1980s sitcom Who’s the Boss, in which a retired baseball player becomes a housekeeper for a busy executive—the premise was a lack of clarity in who was truly running the household. Having just completed a survey of nearly 600 USCJ affiliated kehillot (Jewish communities), we are left wondering the same about today’s congregations.

In the USCJ 2017 Kehilla Staffing Survey, we asked to whom key personnel, including rabbis, cantors, education directors, and executive directors report. Of the nearly 300 respondents, the most common direct report for rabbis (senior or only) is the president (67%), followed by executive committee (20%) and “other” (8%), most frequently identified as the board of directors.

Senior or Only Rabbi Reporting

For the cantor, the rabbi (45%) and the president (31%) are the top reported supervisors, followed by “other,” most frequently identified as executive committee. Similarly, the top educator, whether an education director, director of congregational learning or director of lifelong learning, most often reports to the rabbi (41%), followed by “other” (most frequently identified as rabbi and executive director), education committee chair (14%) and president (12%).

Cantor Reporting

Education Director Reporting

Although both the cantor and the education director most often report to the rabbi, the responses for the executive director/COO offer a different scenario. In this case, like that for the rabbi, it is the president who is most frequently identified as the individual to whom the executive director reports (61%), but with the executive committee reported as third (12%) behind “other,” identified most frequently as a combination of the rabbi and president. The rabbi alone is only shown as the supervisor of the executive director in 4% of responding kehillot (Jewish communities).

Executive Director/COO

In the book Good to Great for the Social Sector, author Jim Collins states that despite the diffuse power structure and complex governance in successful non-business organizations, it is those with a strong executive that make the leap from good to great. It is his Type 5 executive who makes sure the right decisions happen.

The responses to our survey beg the question of Who’s the Boss in our synagogues. Certainly, from a governance standpoint, the president, executive committee and ultimately, the board of directors hold the power. But how does an organization operate with a split professional leadership model, wherein both the rabbi and the executive director report to a volunteer who most often is not present on a daily basis. Perhaps the question is better expressed as Who’s the Chief of Staff? Where does the buck stop for the overall coordination of the functioning of the synagogue on a daily basis?

Our colleague, Robert Leventhal, in his Sulam for Current Leaders curriculum, suggests that there are three types of rabbinic leadership in congregations: the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) model, the CSL (Chief Spiritual Leader) model and the CRO (Chief Religious Officer) model. Clearly in the CEO model, the rabbi serves as chief of staff and is responsible to the board for the function of all professional staff—supervising, evaluating and guiding. In the CSL model, the rabbi separates his or herself from supervisory function and focuses primarily on teaching, preaching and pastoral care. It is the CRO model that he suggests is the most common and our data supports that contention. In this model, it is imperative that the rabbi and the executive director form a strong leadership team.

It is clear to us that the volunteer leadership of a congregation owns the responsibility for hiring and firing staff. In most kehillot (Jewish communities), personnel salaries and benefits remain the single greatest expenditure in their budgets. Protection of this major investment is a fiduciary responsibility. The supervision of staff, however, with all of its levels of evaluation, development and support, may be beyond the capacity of many volunteer leaders to facilitate. But it is imperative that this human asset be developed through regular evaluations, individual support and personal professional development. This is the responsibility of a supervisor.

We believe the question of Who’s the Boss has to be addressed by kehilla (Jewish community) leadership. Each congregation, regardless of size or past practice must establish clear lines of reporting and supervision. Staff represents a major investment and deserves reasonable care. Knowing Who’s the Boss is the logical first step.

Dr. Ray Goldstein is USCJ Kehilla Relationship Team Leader and Barry S. Mael is USCJ Senior Director of Kehilla Affiliations and Operations.

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