But there are lasting lessons that hold across time and place. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of transmitting wisdom and stories from generation to generation, two veritable leaders with a combined five decades of experience respond to a series of questions submitted by PresenTense readers.
Sandy Cardin, president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of Israel-based SodaStream International, share stories of transitions and torpedoes, of hot dog vendors and heroes, all while speaking honestly of their failures, of cultivating leadership, and of what is most needed amongst Jewish leaders today.
President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation for nearly twodecades, Sandy Cardin stewards the Schusterman vision of empowering young Jews to create Jewish life, strengthen global Jewish communities, connect with the state of Israel, and repair the world. He oversaw the growth of a one-office foundation into a global philanthropic network that includes the ROI Community, the Schusterman Foundation-Israel, the Jerusalem Season of Culture, and a team of over 25 professionals. Sandy has served on the boards of the Council on Foundations and Jewish Funders Network; he was named the 2011 Milender Fellow for the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University; and he annually gives the PresenTense Summer Institute keynote address on the state of philanthropy.
Talk about a time you think you failed as a leader. What happened and what did you learn? (Maya Bernstein, Palo Alto, California)
My greatest leadership failure came during the period when Charles Schusterman died in late 2000, and Lynn became Chair of the Foundation. Even though we had a succession plan in place and Lynn had been intimately involved in the Foundation since its founding, I did not adequately anticipate what would happen when we lost our “center of gravity.” The transition was anything but smooth, and we sought outside help to reestablish our footing.
Looking back, I recognize that it was my role to manage the transition, not allow myself to become part of the problem. Important transitions—no matter their size and scope—require intense planning, foresight, and the ability to cope with the unexpected.
What is the most common leadership mistake you see among your colleagues, at your organization or at others? (Isaac Bernstein, Brooklyn, New York)
There is a great story Lynn tells about how she and Charles once nearly missed a play in New York because Charles stopped to buy a hot dog and ended up getting into a lengthy discussion with the street vendor about the business of selling from a food cart. The same was true whether Charles was in a room with five-year-olds or with the titans of industry; he always listened with an open mind, ready to implement a good piece of data into his thinking. It points to what many leaders fail to appreciate or act upon: Great ideas and information can come from the most unassuming of sources, especially young people.
Can leadership be learned? If so, what character traits and attitudes should we try to develop amongst Jewish children and teens to increase the likelihood that they will develop into Jewish leaders in the future? (Samantha Feinberg, Kansas City, Missouri)
Yes, I believe leadership can be learned just as it can be strengthened. With so many styles of leadership, anyone who is thoughtful, engaging, passionate, and committed can exert leadership through learning a style that works for them. When it comes to developing leaders in the Jewish community, we need to do a better job of taking advantage of our population’s impressive diversity and empowering young people to use the skills, strengths, passions, and commitments they possess for the benefit of others. The ROI Community is built to do exactly that: bring together young Jews with a diverse set of leadership skills and enable them to connect and create together.
What do you hope to see in the next generation of Jewish communal leaders? (Sarah Schonberg, Washington, DC)
We need a leader who, like John F. Kennedy back in the 1960s, reminds us to put our responsibility to our community before the community’s responsibility to us. Belonging to a community is not only about our right to receive, but also involves an obligation to give back. Leaders who help us achieve the proper balance between the two will be those who will help us achieve the kind of global Jewish community that will enable us to be a true “light among the nations.”