In the winter of 2012, we came together, Hillel directors from across the country, from California to New York and places in between to form the first cohort of the David M. Cohen Fellowship, an 18 month professional development experience. What brought us together was the interest each of us had in cultivating our leadership skills and growing as Hillel professionals. During the few days that we met in Washington, D.C., we immersed ourselves in self-exploration and discovery. We analyzed how our values inform our leadership and how professional and personal barriers, relationships with our board members, balancing work and home life, lack of resources, and so forth need to be addressed in order for us to grow as effective leaders. We parted after three days, better acquainted with one another, to go our separate ways to begin the second component of the Cohen Fellowship.
Over the course of the next twelve months, each director was paired with an executive coach with whom we developed a personal, individualized leadership growth plan. I spoke with my coach on a bi-weekly basis and the hour that we spent on the phone was sacred and distinct from the rest of the work week. I placed a “please do not disturb” sign on my door and shut out the world for 60 minutes. During those conversations there were moments of deep reveal and struggle and I experienced setbacks and worked to overcome them, am still working to overcome them. Now though, through the coaching experience, I have the tools I need to embrace the challenge of self-reflection.
The capstone of the Cohen Fellowship took place in the winter of 2013. We assessed the truth of our present moment and explored four practices that distinguish great leaders; reflection, values clarification, meeting unmet needs and practicing beginner’s mind. When I look back on the experience, the most important lessons I learned, the lessons integral to my success as a leader are; how to be critically honest with myself, how to develop vision and strategies that enable me to be proactive rather than reactive, and how, when dealing with challenging, interpersonal relationships the one truth that can be relied on, is the only behavior I can expect to change is my own. After three days, inspired by tales of personal growth and accomplishment, we left D.C. with confidence in our ability to lead and as a cohort of new friends.
Phil Nordlinger is in his sixth year as Director of Hillel at Temple University. He received his B.A. in English literature from the University of Maryland and his EdM. From Temple University in secondary English Education. Phil has worked in the Jewish communal world since 1997 and lives in Elkins Park, PA, with his three children Jenna, Ari and Evan.