Tips From The Top: One On One With Dr. Janice Weinman

I spoke to Dr. Janice Weinman, CEO of Hadassah, about her best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here?

Janice: For my entire career, I have participated in the not-for-profit or governmental sectors. I have focused on public policy and bringing social and humanitarian services to as broad a population as possible.

However, starting at the age of 7, I attended the Juilliard School of Music Preparatory Division to train to be a concert pianist. I simultaneously attended the High School of Music and Art in NYC where I concentrated in music. I continued to practice piano and even the harpsichord during college and graduate school. When I no longer was able to balance my academic work and music, I completely abandoned the piano and never went back to play. 

Musical acumen requires a great deal of discipline and attention. I believe that my early training played an “instrumental” role in the precision and focus I bring to whatever challenge I face.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Janice: Because I have worked in so many different environments and work situations, I have had to learn the culture and style of a variety of organizations.  While cumulatively this has given me the experience to run organizations, the start-up in each situation required patience. Because I am very results focused, I sometimes tend to accelerate the process of decision making and implementation. I have learned that each responsibility and role requires the necessary time to germinate and jell. This has never been easy for me and sometimes caused me to accept and adjust to the long view rather than push the process inappropriately. Where I have failed in this regard, I have had to pick up the pieces, regroup and either adjust my expectations or lead others to revisit the situation and improve it.

Adam: What are some of the challenges unique to leading non-profit organizations? What are your best lessons from your experiences leading large nonprofits?

Janice: Not-for-profits are unique in the following ways: the volunteers and lay leaders who are invested both emotionally, philosophically and financially play an important part in all aspects of the organization In some cases, they enter into the operations side of the organization which is challenging as they may not have the expertise required to perform the function at hand. Secondly, not-for-profits are notoriously uninterested in, and unequipped to, conduct data collection and analysis. Decisions are often made based on a philosophical approach to the cause rather than on the most effective strategy for success. 

On the other hand, there is no other type of organization which is as driven by purpose, commitment and passion. Not-for-profits are profoundly dedicated to the individuals they serve, to the causes they want to promote and to the humanitarian goals that they try to achieve. The not-for-profit sector brings to society the forces of good that otherwise might not be addressed, the mechanisms to help others that might otherwise be neglected, and a public awareness about the needs of others who require support to survive.

Adam: What are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Janice: There are actually several qualities of an effective leader. Courage is important as it allows the leader to take risks that, particularly in a not-for-profit, may change the quality of life or the way in which people exist. In order to change social conditions, breaking the status quo often is required. Leaders without the ability and willingness to face the consequences of trying to change unacceptable conditions will have difficulty performing their roles.

Another quality is sensitivity to the needs of others in the organization. Whereas for-profit institutions are driven by the bottom line with accompanying incentives for employees, not-for-profits rely on the commitment of its staff to be continually motivated to perform on behalf of the cause or the organization. Under those circumstances, it is important to know, be aware of, and responsive to, the needs of all those who contribute to the collective goals of the community in which they participate.

Aspiring leaders can bring their skills to the next level by listening and learning. Often those with influential positions think they know it all. But there is always more to learn, more to adjust to and more to add to the toolbox of skills on how to motivate, how to address new and unpredicted situations and how to interact with those previously not familiar with.

Adam: What are the three best tips applicable to civic leaders?

Janice: Be open minded. Take the long view. Value the contributions of your professionals.

Adam: What is the single best advice you ever achieved?

Janice: My mother taught me that “trees don’t grow to heaven.” That instilled in me modesty, realistic expectations but the desire to nurture the development of outcomes as best as I could.

Adam: How has the current political environment impacted your work? 

Janice: The organization that I lead is very large with as broad a range of constituents as you can find in this country. As this country has become more polarized, more divisive and more intolerant, it is more difficult to find a common ground among our members to address policies, solutions to social issues and appropriate approaches to represent our collective whole than ever before. Whereas before our organization was able to mobilize and galvanize around issues we felt were important, we now have to scrutinize the way in which we present the issues, neutralize the language we use to ensure broad based buy in and explain more explicitly the reasons for our positions.

Adam: What is the one thing everyone should do to pay it forward?

Janice: Everyone should try to expose themselves as much as possible to the conditions that others are existing under. Once aware of the discrepancies in opportunity for many individuals, it is important to join organizations of like-minded people who care about the particular issue. Paying forward can manifest itself in terms of community work, substantive advice and/or financial investment. 

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Janice: My current hobby is being with my grandchildren. I have learned more than ever before in life through the questions they ask, the unvarnished perspectives they bring and the interactions they have with others. My leadership has benefitted from recognizing that there may be things that I have never been aware of and many impressions outside the world of work that add to behaving more appropriately to a range of situations. “Through the mouth of babes” come many observations that help to establish balance, perspective and greater understanding of people and circumstances.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Janice: Not-for-profit leadership is challenging as it involves continually weighing the pros and cons of a situation. If you have convictions that you want to promote and yet you have constituents whose needs might be somewhat different, you need to know where to exhibit flexibility and where to exhibit the courage of your own views.  Balance is always hard to achieve without compromising principles on the one hand and needs on the other.

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