Archive for November, 2006

Take These Keys and…

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

Earlier today I was forwarded a statement by the Grand Aleph Godol and International N’siah regarding some of the policy changes. I wanted to reflect on one of them:

2. MYTH: Upon arrival at the house for an overnight, the owner of the house will confiscate all keys for the duration of the evening.

FACT: The adult supervisors at a Chapter overnight will collect and hold the car keys of all participants who drive to the event. This makes sense, since our policy has always stated that leaving an event and returning is prohibited, so there is no reason to have your keys.

This sounds so innocent and reasonable. Yet it is problematic on a number of levels. It’s like the argument that might be made by a truly right-wing prosecutor: if you are not a criminal, surely you would have no problem with the police searching your house without cause, right?

BBYO does have a longstanding policy about leaving an event and returning, and it is a very good policy for numerous reasons that I won’t go into now. So why would it matter if the adult supervisors take your keys?

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Ask and You Shall Receive…

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

Why it was just yesterday that I was wondering why BBYO didn’t provide an effective communications forum for advisors and low and behold – today I have an answer. It seems that a CRW advisor has gone off and created a forum for BBYO advisors to exchange views at TheAdvisorsForum.org. It’s brand new but already there is some interesting discussion, and the category selection suggests that it has the potential to be a great resource.

I encourage all advisors to sign up. Don’t worry if the home page isn’t very welcoming (just an Accessed Denied message right now). Go ahead and and click on the Create New Account link. I got my account authorized in about a day and plan to start cross-posting there.

Highly recommended: http://TheAdvisorsForum.Org

On Communications

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Nobody would argue that communications is critical to the successful functioning of a chapter or region. I expect by now most chapter communication outside of events has migrated to IM, chapter message boards and Email. Most regional communication is through mail (flyers) and Email.

Effective chapter leaders and advisors must be able to use these technologies effectively, and I believe you will find that most do. I know in my own case technology has dramatically changed the way I communicate with the chapter and region – and for the better.

That said, it is astonishing how poorly communication works on an organizational level within BBYO – despite the investment in B-Linked and new web sites. What we see developing in B-Linked is a strategy, that left unchanged, will serve to reduce the effectiveness of advisors and in fact marginalize them.

Follow the logic:

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Buy-In

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

One of the most important leadership and management concepts is that of “buy-in” – getting the group to buy into the vision of the leader.

Buy-in isn’t necessary in a hierarchical organization – one with many levels of bosses. In that kind of organization the BOSS says what’s going to happen, and everyone just does it, whether they like it or not. If they don’t, they get fired, punished, whatever…

Anyone who has served as a leader in BBYO understands buy-in – even if they don’t call it that. They know that you have to communicate with the members and persuade them. You can’t just order people to do things in BBYO. Not only will they not do it, they’ll stop coming. A leader in BBYO is a leader – not a boss, and any who try to act like a boss quickly run into resistance and problems.

Successful advisors understand the value of buy-in as well. They don’t just enforce policy and health & safety decisions, they explain them. They communicate with the chapter why they made certain decisions and work with them to come up with solutions that work for the benefit of the chapter.

One of the best ways to accomplish buy-in is to ask people for their opinions and suggestions. When someone is part of defining a solution, they take ownership of it, believe in it, and support it. Asking advice and asking for help are incredibly powerful techniques for chapter leaders. And when an advisor has to make a policy call, it does not reduce his or her authority at all to take the time to not only explain the decision, but to ask chapter leaders for their opinions and for suggestions for implementation. On the contrary, doing so increases the chance that the decision will be one that everyone is happy with, and that it will be enforced.

Buy-in is such a fundamental management principle, that it is astonishing how little it is practiced at higher levels in BBYO. Logic would suggest that before decisions that impact chapters are made at the international level, some form of communication would go out to chapters and advisors to get feedback as to the possible consequences of those decisions. Yet this never seems to happen. No wonder innovations (such as B-Linked and Dashboard) are often met with skepticism and resistance.

Good is not Obedience

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

The terms “good” and “obedient” are often confused – especially among teens but often among adults as well. A good student is someone who obeys their teacher and does all their homework. A good worker is someone who does what they’re told and obeys the rules.

This is understandable if you think about how children are raised. Good, when you are very young, is nothing more than doing as you are told and not doing what is prohibited. It is only when you are older that moral judgment comes into play.

Moral judgment – that’s where you, as an individual, make a choice to be good or not based on your own understanding of what is right and wrong. If your teacher instructs you to cheat on a standardized test, doing so would be obedient, but it would not be right – it would not be good.

We are taught as Jews that “just following orders” is never a justification for doing evil. As Jews we know that our obligation is to be good – not to be obedient. When you see someone doing harm or when someone instructs you or leads you to doing something harmful you are obligated to counter it, to speak out and to act to prevent the harm.

Things get complicated, of course. For one thing, your parents, teachers, supervisors and advisors presumably have more experience and knowledge and are better able to make sound moral choices. Yet history shows us that parents, teachers, supervisors and advisors are, like anyone, capable of making mistakes or of acting selfishly. So it is imperative that one first consider carefully – make very certain that you really are in the right before taking action.

There are often consequences for choosing to be good rather than obedient. It is often much harder to choose good over obedience (this is why peer pressure is so powerful – it’s very common for people to follow – to “obey” their friends even when they are doing something foolish). Yet the consequences of choosing obedience are often worse for you and for others.

Everyone faces this challenge at some time. Just remember – the goal of BBYO is to develop good Jews, not obedient ones. Just remember – it’s not enough to disobey. Disregarding the views of teachers, advisors and supervisors is just as stupid as obeying them blindly. It’s up to you to first make your own decision of what is right – then, and only then, to act as your conscience dictates.

Why are we here?

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

It seems fitting that my first post set the ground rules – cardinal principles if you will. Principles are important because they give us the criteria on which to judge the wisdom of our choices and views. They allow us to frame our questions.

When you ask someone why they are involved in BBYO, you’ll hear many different answers. A teen will often refer to fun, friendship and leadership opportunities. An advisor will often refer to “giving back” to the organization (those who were once members), or to making a contribution to the community.

These are good reasons. They may even be the most important reasons for being involved, and nothing that follows is intended to suggest otherwise.

But they are not sufficient reasons.

Ours is a greater purpose.

Our goal is to help ensure the survival of the Jewish people.

Fun, friendship, leadership, giving back are all fine goals, but they alone do not justify the dedication and effort (and donations) of the community at large. But BBYO has a proven record of helping Jewish survival, and that DOES justify the costs.

How BBYO does this is (or should be) well known – though I may write more on this later.

  • By getting teens involved in a Jewish community, it promotes a strong Jewish identity and increases the chance that they will remain involved in Jewish communities later, increases the chances they will marry other Jews and raise their children as Jews.
  • By teaching leadership skills, BBYO alumni often become leaders and advocates of Israel and Jewish causes as adults, whether it is leadership on campus or in Congress.

In a world of increasing assimilation, conflict and anti-Semitism, BBYO alumni are often on the front lines, using the skills they formed in high school to advance their cause.

Ensuring the future of the Jewish people is important – and a principle that I hope members, advisors and staff can all agree to without reservation. I propose that it is a principle on which every aspect of BBYO should be measured. It is not the only principle to consider, nor is it essential that it be considered for every decision – I would hardly expect a chapter to worry about it when deciding what movie to go to at an event. But I would expect a chapter to consider it when planning their programming for a term. I would expect an advisor to consider it when working with the chapter to establish goals. I would expect staff to consider it when setting policy. I would expect everyone involved in BBYO to consider it when making any major decision – and a choice that is determined to be harmful to this goal should be avoided regardless of how attractive it might be for other reasons.

This purpose – to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, is why BBYO exists. It is the equal of other core values and principles that are based on fundamental Jewish values. Let us always strive to make our choices and actions follow these principles, for only thus will we achieve our shared goals.