What Speaks to You?

Dispatch from the Grand Leadership Institute

This month, the inaugural Grand Leadership Institute launched, with 15 Jewish communal leaders coming together in Tomales Bay. Inspired by Nancy Grand’s personal experience, she and her husband Stephen created and funded the 15-month leadership program with the goal of bringing a strong cohort of talented individuals together to create a corps of leadership for the Federation’s key positions over the next 5-10 years.

Participants of the inaugural Grand Leadership Institute

“Would you be willing to volunteer for the [insert any name!] Jewish organization?” If you are at all involved in the Jewish community, this is a question you’ve asked friends, peers, and even strangers. What I learned last weekend at the inaugural Grand Leadership Institute (GLI) retreat is that the questions we ask influence the results we get.

For two days in lovely Tomales Bay, Deborah Grayson-Riegel, a coach and facilitator, guided our group of 15, some of our spouses/partners, along with Federation staff (Debbie Tuttle Berkowitz and Katherine Tick) and guest, Rabbi Jessica Kirschner, through a series of programs, role plays, and improv exercises to help us better understand ourselves and others.

What made the most lasting impression on me — so much that I’ve already applied it in my professional work — was learning how to ask the right questions in order to solve problems. As Deborah explained, “The question you ask starts the change. Stop asking questions about the problem and start asking questions about the person.” Thinking back to the example above, instead of asking a prospective volunteer board member or organizer, “Can I count on you to join the host committee for Super Sunday?,” we need to focus on their motivations and preferences. To reach these personal drivers, we need to understand what speaks to our prospective volunteer and focus on their peak experiences as a volunteer in the Jewish community. The following questions help us get there:

  • What’s your best volunteer experience? Why?
  • What’s an ideal day with your family?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • What are you most proud of?

When I asked a friend these questions last week, I learned that she was interested in joining the executive board of the PTA at my children’s school — just not in the role that we had originally proposed. Asking the questions helped me match her preferences to our needs and pave the way for a more meaningful volunteer experience.

Our first GLI retreat far exceeded my expectations. I feel privileged to be part of this group and to receive this training. Thank you to Nancy and Stephen Grand for their initiative and support of our community!

The Grand Leadership Institute is a 15-month program designed for the next generation of leadership for the Federation. It provides opportunities for deep learning, building community, and a series of shared experiences that will help shape important leadership lessons. For more information, contact either Debbie Berkowitz or Katherine Tick.

Categories: Leadership


March 23, 2015


Sara Leslie