Being a Shul President is taxing, tiring and consuming. If you understand the trials and tribulations of the president you can help your shul, yourself and of course, the president. Although there are Shuls with female presidents, I’ll use the pronoun he in this article for ease of writing and reading.
Shuls have an interesting configuration in the partnership between the Rabbi and the President. The Rabbi is hopefully the undisputed spiritual leader, while the president is responsible for the non-spiritual needs, in addition to supporting the Rabbi in all matters. If the Rabbi and the president are not working well together, trouble is sure to follow.
In regard to the lay leadership, the overall mission of a Shul as a place for prayer, learning and loving-kindness are set, however some shuls do add new mission ingredients to the standard mix. Leadership abilities definitely come into play when handling special projects like a new building or when handling crisis situations.
The overall key to leadership is seeing the big picture. There’ll be a lot of issues and problems that come up day to day, but a focus on the mission, which includes providing a peaceful place for the members to daven, learn and help each other must always be upfront. The president is there to serve the members and he must always keep that in mind, especially if a member gets hot under the collar. It’s not a reciprocal relationship and that can sometimes make it difficult.
Management is a key presidential skill. There are numerous things that need to be taken care of on a weekly basis and the buck stops with the president. He’s the one who’s responsible. A president can sometimes get away with being a so-so manager if he has some good people under him that get things done.
The president also has to manage those who do volunteer to work on shul affairs. The general rule of thumb is to let those who volunteer have the space to do the job in the manner they see fit. Sometimes this might result in lesser success, but in the long run it benefits the Shul. The president needs to be aware of what’s going on in each area and to support the shul volunteers in the roles they assume.
The president is the governor of the Shul and needs to develop that talent. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made and then enacted. It’s important for the president to depend on the membership to help govern. Talking out issues with the members, understanding the various points of view, clearly spelling out their thinking on every subject, getting feedback and then making a decision and going forward. If the president works with the membership, the right decision will be made more often and there will be less difficulty administering the results.
Perhaps the most difficult yet important role is the president as peacemaker. He must truly hear and understand each member’s point of view, even if he might disagree. Even when the president is quite sure the member is wrong on a particular issue, he must still try to make peace and try to satisfy the member in whatever way possible. This can be very difficult, but when it comes to the successful care and feeding of a Shul, shalom trumps emes (peace overrides truth).
Member to member conflicts can be even more difficult and the president has to develop the skills of Aaron HaKohen a renowned peacemaker. It’s not easy, but when members see that the president does truly care about them, they will be more successful in their peacemaker role.
Of course there’s much more to say about this subject, but just as a president must understand his members’ attention spans when it comes to the Shabbos announcements, so to a web writer must understand the attention allocation of his readers.
It’s hard to find the highly developed qualities of leader, manager, governor and peacemaker in one person, so cut your president some slack. If you do accept the wonderful responsibility of being shul president, you can surely grow from the effort.
(Published in honor of EH)