Blog  The Makings of a Leader

The Makings of a Leader

By Aaron Alter, NFTY-NW RCVP

What does it mean to be on Regional Board? Most of us would probably say that to be on Regional Board is to be an exceptional leader and role model. But really, what does that mean? What does it mean to be a true youth leader?

My two years of serving on Regional Board could not have been more different. As a junior (as Merchandising and Fundraising Vice President), I was wide-eyed and eager to A) get elected, and B) do a good job on board. I’ll be totally honest here: there were things in my platform and campaign materials that I only decided to include because I had been told by many people that the region wanted to hear them before voting for me. For example, I wrote up the most ambitious, grandiose fundraising ideas I could think of, despite the fact that most of them would have been nearly impossible for even a dedicated fundraising organization, let alone NFTY, to pull off. In the end, I was able to execute on one half of my platform: making and selling popular merchandise.

Aaron Alter songleads at West Coast Party

Aaron Alter songleads at West Coast Party 2013

My second year was a different story entirely. I decided, from the moment I made up my mind to run for Religious and Cultural Vice President that I was going to write a platform that could be executed 100%. It was (and still is) my feeling that the region deserves a leader who runs with honesty and integrity, and presents realistic goals for themselves. So I sat down and wrote out my ideas. Were they spectacular and game changing? No, not really. They were, however, S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Ultimately, I believe that people want results rather than empty promises, and the prospect of delivering on these proposals gave me the confidence I needed going into elections.  As my term comes to an end, I can proudly say that I was able to meet my goals, and follow through on my commitments to the region.

The real challenge, however, lies in writing a truly excellent and attainable platform. NFTY is made up of young adults, no older than 18 years of age. So why, then, are we writing platforms that would be at home in a Rabbi’s job description, and expecting our candidates to have the programming know-how of veteran social workers and college professors? Yes, NFTY deserves exemplary leaders. Yes, we should have meaningful services and engaging programs. But it is simply unrealistic and unfair to put the kinds of pressure that we do on Regional Board members and candidates. This is not at all to say that Regional Board members are incapable of writing incredible material. My intent, rather, is to direct our focus towards the skill that is the true strength of teen leaders: forging connections and relationships. Consider this: when a house is being built, the roof cannot be installed until all of the support columns are in place, yet the house will not be complete without the roof. In NFTY, programs and services are the roof. They are absolutely a critical and defining aspect of the NFTY experience. Conversely, the relationships and connections we make are the supports that make all of that possible. If you removed them, we simply wouldn’t be able to write meaningful programs, and we’d be stuck in a wave of empty monotony. So then how do you write a platform that encompasses both relationships AND goals?

My advice is this: Sit down, and make a list of the reasons why you’re running for board and your goals. Then, make a list of what the region wants/needs to provide a meaningful experience for participants. Finally, make a list of the interactions with others that have shaped your NFTY experience. Look at them next to each other, and you’ll find the roots of your platform. You’ll likely find that your reasons for running are very closely linked to your meaningful interactions. That is no coincidence. Simply put, our relationships and connections define our NFTY experiences. One of NFTY’s most important values is Hanhagah L’dorot: Generational Leadership. The essence of generational leadership is the relationships shared between the past, present, and future leaders of our movement. The friendships I share with my predecessors and my successors. The conversation a senior has with a nervous freshman. The love that anyone who has ever been to a NFTY event has felt.

To answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post: To be a leader is to set goals. To try. To succeed. To stumble and fail. To recover. And make no mistake, every single newly elected Regional Board member will experience each of these. But above all, being a leader in NFTY is about continuing the friendships and connections that have shaped who you are. Remember this, as the year goes by. Remember that we have elected youth leaders, not rabbis and social workers. Evaluate your Regional Boards based on the connections they make, not just how much you liked their program. Most importantly, hold on to what made you love NFTY, and the people who made it so special for you.