By Jill Madsen

[This is the eighth in a weekly series “When and how does effective leadership make a true difference?” written by alumni, staff, and faculty of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary.]

Monday morning, I arrive in the office by 7:00 a.m. By 9:00 a.m. I pause to reflect. In just two hours I have:

  • Reviewed the calendar of upcoming Facebook posts in an effort to boost social media presence;
  • Reached out to two potential corporate sponsors about our upcoming Jewish Food Festival;
  • Printed pledge cards for a special campaign we are launching;
  • Reconciled the past week’s bank account to monitor cash flow;
  • Emailed various committee and board members regarding new policy connected to security;
  • Responded to a couple of community event invitations; and
  • Replied to 47 emails.

Wow. Time to go home now?

Nope. Not yet. My day as the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Durham Chapel Hill is just beginning.

You might read this laundry list of tasks and think effective leadership simply means effective management and the juggling of multiple responsibilities and checking off these to-dos. If you asked me 20 years ago I would have agreed. I would have focused on the specific traits or skills an effective leader needs to possess: responsibility, flexibility, patience, self-confidence, and determination, someone who communicates well, solves problems, serves as a role model, inspires and motivates others around them, and creates a shared vision and pathway for implementation.

All this I still believe to be true, and as I’ve worked in various leadership capacities, I’ve been fine-tuning these skills within myself, committed to being the best leader I could be. Recently though, after transitioning into my current role, my perspective changed. I realized my definition of an effective leader was missing the icing on the cake.

After spending my whole life in Minneapolis, my partner and I decided we were done with winter and ready for a change. Then the big question came, “What do I want to do?” Based on my previous work experience and educational background, I knew I could explore many different paths. I quickly came to the realization that I would not move across the country unless it was for something that would bring me joy and tap into my professional passions.

And so, in planning for the future, I searched my past. When we made the decision to move, I was working at a job and place I loved, the Sabes Jewish Community Center in Minneapolis. I had spent my whole life at that JCC. I attended preschool and camp and learned to swim there as a child. During high school, I spent Wednesday nights there with BBYO. I was a camp counselor and then teacher in their Early Childhood Center during college. After 10 years in the work force and finishing my doctoral degree, I found myself back there.

There was not a day that went by that I was not using all of the skills and traits of an effective leader listed above. And there was not a day that didn’t have ups and downs. In reflection, I realized that I had had icing each day, as the passion and joy I had for the work motivated me through all obstacles. Without this ingredient, I am certain I would not have stayed as long as I did nor would I have been as effective as I know I was. I realized a core focus of my job search would need to be on finding a new place and purpose that I cared about in this manner. Luckily I found this in Durham Chapel Hill.

Effective leaders do need a number of skills and traits to find success in their work. To be effective fully, the added element of passion and joy for the work is what makes a leader really soar. It serves as the hidden motivator when budgets are tight and days are long. The guiding light when projects don’t go the way you had hoped. It fuels our fire when the number of items on your to-do list outnumbers the hours in a day.

It’s 9:01 a.m. on Monday, and with the icing of passion and joy on my effective leadership cake, I plunge forward with a smile on my face, hoping to connect, engage, make change, and inspire.

Jill Madsen is the chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Durham and Chapel Hill. Jill is an alumna of the Jewish Experiential Leadership Institute (JELI), a partnership program of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary and the Jewish Community Center Association.

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