The Key To Success? Don’t Do It All Yourself!

One hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt advised us that “the best executive is the one who has sense enough t...

One hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt advised us that “the best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” With all due respect to President Roosevelt, this is easier said than done.

Why delegating is important

A recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that nearly half of all companies surveyed were concerned about their employees’ ability to delegate work – and with good reason. When organizational leaders don’t delegate, they become overworked, stressed and unhappy. But they’re not the only ones affected; failure to delegate properly adversely impacts an entire organization. Because leaders who don’t delegate lack time to spend on “big picture” responsibilities, no one has time to ensure that the mission of their organization is being fulfilled. Further, by insisting on doing everything themselves, these leaders create a bottleneck, which slows down everyone they work with. Worst of all, the organization’s staff lose out on opportunities to gain new skills and experiences. When these sorts of growth opportunities aren’t available, employees feel undervalued and inadequate, and often leave the organization altogether.

Why don’t we delegate?

Despite the importance of delegating, that same Institute for Corporate Productivity study found that only 28% of all the companies surveyed offered any sort of employee training on how to properly delegate. Proper training is key because delegating can be scary! According to the Harvard Business Review, some of the most commonly cited reasons for failure to delegate are:

    Perfectionism: “It’s easier to just do everything myself.”
    Self-enhancement Bias: “My work is better than everyone else’s.”
    Insecurity: “Delegating work will make me less important.”
    Low Self-confidence: “I don’t want to be upstaged by subordinates.”

How to delegate

Having heard these and countless other excuses during my years as a mentor to leadership executives, I developed the “Boomerang” technique of delegation. Imagine a boomerang: when used correctly, a boomerang returns to the person who threw it. A good manager operates on a similar principle. First, the manager throws the boomerang by delegating a specific responsibility to an employee. The boomerang returns to the manager when the employee reports back after the completion of that task. The cycle then continues with the employee being given additional tasks and continuing to boomerang back to the manager for progress reports and additional responsibilities.

I have taught this management technique for a number of years to students at the William Davidson School of Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. It is a particularly valuable tool for these graduate students because, as young leaders often just beginning their careers, the Boomerang technique defuses some of the fears associated with delegating work by requiring regular check-ins and keeping leaders consistently apprised of the status of ongoing projects.

Don’t chuck it

You can’t just chuck a boomerang – or odds are it will wind up landing somewhere other than back in your hand. Similarly, in order for the Boomerang technique to be successful, a leader needs to take certain initial steps. Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, tells managers to “Give people a vision, rules about how to get there and deadlines.” This advice is the basis for the “Four D’s,” which make up the initial steps to Boomerang management:

    Detail. Clearly articulate goals and discuss how the finished product will appear. It is important that your staff understand the “big picture” so that they understand the purpose of their work and become invested in the project.
    Divide. Chunk the project into clearly defined tasks. Breaking goals into manageable tasks helps to empower staff and makes large projects feel less overwhelming.
    Delegate. Enumerate several clear tasks that need to be accomplished. Meet with your staff and discuss who will be completing certain tasks.
    Deadline. Give a short but reasonable deadline to return with the tasks completed. The goal is for the employee to be given adequate time to independently complete whatever task they have been assigned, but not so much time as to be inefficient.

Boomerang like a pro(fessional)

Let’s take a look at a case study in order to see the Boomerang technique in action. Consider the following facts:

The Aleph Agency hosts an annual staff recognition event. Traditionally, this event was a very formal affair with expensive food and polite clapping. In prior years, the CEO had honored only a few employees for their outstanding contributions to Aleph Agency, and while those employees who were honored did feel modestly appreciated, the overwhelming majority of employees who were not mentioned felt unappreciated. Aleph Agency’s CEO Chana has a new vision for this year’s staff recognition event: a more informal gathering with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, and some stand-up comedy for entertainment. CEO Chana wants to make sure that every employee feels appreciated at the event, so her vision also includes presentations by each department head, group awards for each department, a few outstanding individual recognition awards, and gift cards for each employee to take home. CEO Chana asks VP Vered to work on the staff recognition event.

Sending out the boomerang: CEO Chana articulates her vision for the staff recognition event to VP Vered, who agrees that it would be good to try to do something different. Chana then outlines the planning of the event to Vered and assigns Vered the following tasks:

    Ask the other VPs and department heads for their input on the new event.
    Suggest at least 3 different venues for the event and check on the prices of those venues.
    Check Aleph Agency’s calendar and propose possible dates for the event.
    Ask Aleph Agency’s CFO for the amount budgeted for this year’s event, and for the amount actually spent on last year’s event.

Chana asks Vered to report back in a week after he completes these tasks.

In this scenario, Chana has just sent out the boomerang for the first time. By starting with small steps, particularly at the beginning, Chana can ensure that Vered is not overwhelmed by the scope of the project.

The boomerang returns: Vered comes back in a week and reports in to Chana. Most of the senior management team was positive about trying something new, however there was disagreement about whether spouses and partners should be expected to attend the event. Vered found 4 different suitable venues and presented Chana with a spreadsheet of prices for space, food and drink. Vered looked at the calendar and found two possible Sunday evenings for the event in the spring if spouses were included; he also found two weekday evenings that could work if the event was employees-only. Vered reported that the total spent on the event last year was $8,500, but that this year, because of the recession, only $7,000 had been budgeted for the event.

Here, Vered has completed the tasks he was given and reported back to Chana; thus the boomerang has returned to her. By checking in on a frequent basis, Chana can correct any missteps or miscommunications early in the project, thereby ensuring that the final event is successful and true to her vision.

Sending the boomerang out again: CEO Chana reviews VP Vered’s work and thanks him for his hard work on the staff recognition event so far (providing positive reinforcement is key!). Chana then asks Vered to complete the following tasks:

    Compose a questionnaire to be sent out to the entire company polling the employees on whether they would prefer to come to a Sunday evening event with spouses/significant others, or an event held on a weekday evening that was limited to Aleph Agency employees.
    Call some similarly-sized companies in the area and ask about their staff recognition events. Ask about the typical gift that was given to the staff.
    Compile a list of suggestions for a 5-person committee to work on the details of the staff recognition event.

Chana asks Vered to send the questionnaire to her Personal Assistant, Polly, by the next day, and complete the other tasks by the end of the week. They schedule a follow-up meeting for the following Monday.

Having successfully completed the first round of tasks, Chana sends the boomerang out of a second time, delegating slightly more complex work to Vered while still maintaining stewardship of the event. By reviewing and complimenting Vered’s work on a frequent basis, Chana can provide a sense of rapid accomplishment and success.

The boomerang returns again: The following Monday, Chana and Vered meet to discuss his progress. Chana had already tweaked the language of the questionnaire that Vered composed, and then Personal Assistant Polly sent the questionnaire out to all of Aleph Agency’s employees. Vered presented the results of his calls with similar companies, reporting that two of the companies had no recognition events but were intrigued by the idea. The other three companies that Vered contacts had annual recognition events similar to what Aleph Agency had held in the past, with a few employees being recognized with $1,000 bonuses. One of those companies reported that these bonuses did cause some tension, but also helped to promote some healthy competition. Chana agreed with 4 of the 5 names that Vered proposed to work on the staff recognition event committee; she switched one name in order to ensure that all levels of Aleph Agency would be represented.

Here, Vered has once again successfully completed all the tasks he was given and reported back to Chana.

Throwing the boomerang farther: Having successfully used the boomerang technique to delegate these previous tasks, CEO Chana can now feel more comfortable handing off increasing levels of responsibility to VP Vered, while checking in less frequently. Moving forward, Chana should give Vered larger tasks (e.g. preparing a budget, developing non-monetary awards that could be donated from various sources, working with the event committee, etc.) while continuing to check in via weekly emails. The goal is for Chana to ultimately be able to leave the project in the hands of Vered and the event committee, while having the recognition event retain her imprint.


The boomerang technique allows leaders to delegate work, while retaining stewardship of large projects, thus ultimately allowing organizations to accomplish as much as possible. Because employees are overseen more heavily at the beginning of a project, any errors or miscommunications can be cleared up early, ensuring of a successful final product, while creating a positive learning experience for the employees involved. So, when the opportunity arises, stop holding on to every piece of a project – try letting go of some responsibility and allowing your staff to boomerang back to you instead.

The Key To Success? Don’t Do It All Yourself! November 4, 2014, eJP, by Cheryl Magen

Jewish Leadership Training: Insights from a Lay Leader

I have met so many young professionals, the lifeblood of the Jewish community, who want to be affiliated with Jewish ...

I have met so many young professionals, the lifeblood of the Jewish community, who want to be affiliated with Jewish organizations, but the language and concepts of the past do not resonate with them.

[This article is the ninth in Advancing Jewish Leadership: A Series on Jewish Context and Professional Practices. Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership is currently marking its 90th anniversary with the launch of the Center for Jewish Leadership. In this series, faculty, mentors, graduates, and staff of Spertus Institute’s graduate degree, certificate, and professional programs share valuable insights relevant to all those working for and with Jewish organizations.]

My journey as a volunteer leader began back in the 1970s. I started on my synagogue’s board which led to my appointment decades later as the President of the Women’s Board of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. In the early years, training wasn’t even a consideration. As someone who was connected to the business world, I heard the buzz of leadership gurus and eagerly sought out the popular literature. I took seminars and workshops and got a degree in Applied Behavioral Science. All of this was critical in my role as a business owner, but I believed it would also be valuable in my work with various organizations. As I became more involved in the volunteer world, I wanted to bring these skills and lessons to my charitable work.

When I took on the Presidency of the Women’s Board in June 2010, I knew I wanted the board to grow and develop, but also knew I needed to enhance my abilities in order to lead a group of committed individuals toward a common, community-oriented goal. My personal goal was to develop future leaders, a mission I took very seriously. How I was to do this wasn’t entirely clear.

My first inspiration came in a book by Dr. Hal Lewis, President of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, where I serve as a Trustee. From Sanctuary to Boardroom: A Jewish Approach to Leadership became my bible. I didn’t just read this book. I studied it, I dissected it, I struggled with it. I took it to heart. I saw myself in a new light, in a role Dr. Lewis describes as a “servant leader.” In sharing new-found kernels of wisdom with my Executive Board, I learned a humbling lesson: some of the people, some of the time might be interested and many will not. All I could do was offer my gleanings and then it was out of my control.

After my first year of a two year term, another inspiration came again when Spertus partnered with Northwestern University to offer a Certificate in Jewish Leadership and I enrolled as a student. At first, the prospect of going back to school seemed daunting. I wondered if I would be able to keep up with the rigorous demands of post-graduate education – the long reading lists, the challenging essays, the research. What finally motivated me to enroll, however, was the knowledge that my enduring success as a lay leader would depend on more than just my business acumen. To bolster the techniques, skills, and best practices I acquired from my years of fundraising and administrative work, I needed credibility and certification. In other words, I needed academic validation of what I knew to be intrinsically true. I came into the Spertus program expecting to receive just that. I came away with so much more.

In the Spertus Certificate program, the most important thing I learned was how much I didn’t know. I had always considered myself a capable leader. I had proven myself time and time again as a confident decision-maker, a clear communicator, and a competent, organized manager. The Spertus Certificate program acknowledged these aspects of my managerial style, validating, in essence, what I already knew about the way I lead.

It also taught me an incomparably more valuable lesson: it exposed me to the things I could not do. It shined light on the gaps in my knowledge, gave me a context for my management style, and challenged my perspective on everything from Jewish history to business ethics. By participating in classes taught by men and women who are respected leaders in the world of Jewish leadership, I developed the ability to recognize weaknesses in my leadership style, to accept – even embrace – these weaknesses, and create a plan to deal with them most effectively. I became a better leader; certainly a more humble one.

As a “seasoned veteran” of the nonprofit Jewish world, I became aware of something very important about the younger people seeking meaningful charitable involvement.

I have met so many young professionals, the lifeblood of the Jewish community, who want to be affiliated with Jewish organizations, but the language and concepts of the past do not resonate with them. I was motivated by the concepts of tzedekah as a mitzvah, a commandment. It was incumbent upon me to carry on the traditions; I was part of the legacy of the Jewish people, a link to the past and future. These words do not hold much meaning for younger generations and, in fact, they can even alienate.

Today’s Jews are dedicated to contributing to their Jewish communities in practical, rewarding, and hands-on ways. They strive to change old models – and they expect this new, more personal kind of support to be embraced. They want to call their own shots. They value participation and want, even demand, that their participation makes a difference.

If true leadership is training and developing future leaders, then we face the challenge of doing so within the context of Jewish values and principles and by finding a language that will touch and inspire those we mentor. As I attempt to understand this new emerging leadership, I try not to become defensive or a champion of the “old ways.” I have made a concentrated effort to do more listening and less talking.

As an eternal optimist, I feel that with continued 21st-century training and our support, guidance, and love, today’s nascent Jewish leaders will blossom and thrive. As we encourage people to be authentic, creative, and innovative, they will grow to champion and advance both existing and new Jewish organizations, serving and ensuring the vibrancy of tomorrow’s Jewish community. AMEN.

Jewish Leadership Training: Insights from a Lay Leader, November 4, 2014, eJP, by Deanna Drucker

Making Philanthropic Investments Last: The Role of Financial Sustainability

Launched in 2010, the Jim Joseph Foundation’s Education Initiative has supported the development and expansion ...

Launched in 2010, the Jim Joseph Foundation’s Education Initiative has supported the development and expansion of 18 degree and certificate programs as well as leadership institutes at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion (HUC-JIR), The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU).

The Jim Joseph Foundation provided the resources needed for program development, staffing, student tuition assistance, and marketing/recruitment activities. The investment was substantial – each institution received $15 million over a period of up to six years. As part of its independent evaluation of the Education Initiative, American Institutes for Research (AIR) assessed how well the three grantees not only delivered high quality programs, but also how well they planned to sustain these programs into the future after the Jim Joseph Foundation’s investment wound down.

As part of its activities, AIR researchers reviewed the institutions’ financial sustainability plans for each of the programs supported by the Education Initiative. Financial sustainability requires careful planning, typically using a dynamic document that is reviewed and revisited periodically. Such a document – the financial sustainability plan – describes strategies to contain costs and to cover them through fundraising and program revenues.

Informing Financial Sustainability Plans Through Break-Even Analysis

A common tool in financial planning is break-even analysis, which identifies the circumstances in which costs and revenues are balanced. We developed a program-level Break-Even Analysis Calculator, allowing program administrators to project revenues and expenditures by changing variables such as tuition, numbers of students, and staffing levels. [1] This interactive tool can be used to:

    Identify the resources required to implement a program, including personnel, facilities, equipment, and materials, whether they are paid for directly or contributed in-kind, and subsequently to calculate program costs.
    Explore ways to reduce costs.
    Identify the effects of different levels of tuition and scholarships.
    Calculate fundraising needs and demonstrate to potential funders why their help is needed.

Review of Financial Sustainability Plans

We created benchmarks for reviewing the financial sustainability plans submitted by each institution. The four criteria described below are based on the assumption that financial sustainability is a process, not an end. In other words, although the process aimed at achieving financial sustainability may not yet be completed, the financial sustainability plan helps develop a road map so that programs can follow into the future.

Assessment Criterion I: Key Informational Elements

We saw financial sustainability plans as facilitating communications and planning within an institution. For this purpose, we expected each program plan to articulate its rationale – how does the program fit into the vision of the institution in its efforts to support the field of Jewish education? How consistent is the program with the institution’s view of current needs and anticipated future trends? Similarly, we expected each plan to identify how long the program should be continued (we do not assume every program will last forever) and we expected a timeline for anticipated fundraising activities. In our feedback to the grantees, we recommended that each financial sustainability plan includes a detailed budget, budget assumptions, and analysis (e.g., break-even analysis) that spells out the calculations and assumptions on which current decision-making is based.

Assessment Criterion II: Feasibility

It is critical that the financial sustainability plan is feasible. For example, if the break-even analysis identifies a break-even point, but the circumstances under which this will be achieved are unreal, the analysis will not serve its purpose. To make the case for the viability of long-term plans, authors should include as many specifics as possible. Projections of philanthropic contributions should include names of funders, projected amounts, and at the very least, an overview of fundraising plans. Projections of tuition revenue should include enrollment estimates, market demand assumptions, and description of strategies to align tuition discounts with measurable student needs (rather than using blanket across-the-board tuition discounting policies). Finally, plans should include an assessment of organizational capacity (e.g., the availability of qualified staff with relevant expertise), which is key to successful implementation.

Assessment Criterion III: Need

Higher education institutions sometimes choose to run programs at a loss, as a service to the field or as a marquee program that can promote institutional capacity and reputation. But financial sustainability plans highlight the costs of such a strategy, allowing institutional leaders to better judge the level of their investment and the return. To ensure that such decisions are based on valid assumptions and consensus among chief officers in the institutions, effective financial sustainability plans should address the need for the program along multiple dimensions.

Assessment Criterion IV: Commitment

Programs can be sustained over the long-term when institutional leadership (the president, provost, and the dean) are committed to support the program through allocation of funds, sharing of infrastructure, and active participation in targeted fundraising efforts. Additionally, financial sustainability planning benefits from use of proven strategies and processes for ongoing review and revision of the financial sustainability plan.

Supporting the Continuation of Higher Education Programs in Jewish Education

HUC-JIR, JTS, and YU developed financial sustainability plans that took into account multi-year projections of costs and revenues. This involved hard work and time – and many of the questions we asked them to address were new to academic leaders who have not often been held to financial standards. All three grantees of the Education Initiative were torn between offering their very best to the field of Jewish education and making promises they were likely not going to be able to keep within the limitation of financial resources. This is understandable.

But spending money and time to ensure the financial health of programs over the long-term is something that grantees need to do. Crafting implementation plans that can be sustained over the long run is a new and difficult task that grantees must increasingly face – and it is something that the Jim Joseph Foundation is committed to, in order to make sure their philanthropic investments produce long term results.

Making Philanthropic Investments Last: The Role of Financial Sustainability, November 3, 2014, eJP, by Dr. Mark Schneider & Dr. Yael Kidron