Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI)

“Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential.” – Warren Bennis

The Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI) is a two-year program to support and encourage early career congregational rabbis (years 2 to 10) in the areas of innovative thinking, change management and institutional transformation. The acronym—CLI—reminds us that clergy are intended to be human vessels that create sacred communities in which Jews can find meaning and purpose (klei kodesh). Participants will receive training from nationally prominent experts in these fields, and be supported by both an individual rabbinic mentor and by a peer cohort that will form an interdenominational community of practice. CLI is run under the auspices of Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and is directed by Rabbi Sid Schwarz.

Program Goals:

  1. Voice– To help early career rabbis engage in the work of personal discovery, better identifying their particular gifts, their rabbinic calling and finding their rabbinic voice.
  2. Vision-To advance the rabbi’s vision of what a vibrant, engaged spiritual community looks like so that they can help move their congregations in healthy, new directions, transforming the paradigm of their synagogues in ways that engage ever more Jews.
  3. Spiritual Leadership-To provide the tools, strategy and support so that participating rabbis can evolve into visionary spiritual leaders who have the ability to be effective change agents in their communities. Each participant will work towards implementing an innovation in their respective institution that has the ability to transform the organizational culture in accordance with the vision developed in goal #2.

Program Content

There are two parts to the CLI training program, personal discovery and visionary leadership. The personal discovery sequence (year one) will draw heavily from the field of leadership education though the focus will not be on the management/business dimension as much as on the spiritual/integrative dimension of the field. In this we will draw on the work of Steven Covey (principle-centered leadership), Parker Palmer (the leader within), Ronald Heifetz (adaptive leadership) and Robert Greenleaf (servant leadership). All are deeply spiritual thinkers and their work has enormous implications for the second stage of CLI—creating visionary spiritual leaders.

The visionary leadership sequence (year two) will use the new paradigm synagogue model from Sid Schwarz’s book, Finding a Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews can Transform the American Synagogue. The four core principles of the “synagogue-community” paradigm are:

a) articulation of vision/mission;

b) the creation of an empowered organizational culture that aspires to create an intentional spiritual community;

c) the framing of serious Judaism

d) the rabbi as visionary change agent

The goal of CLI is to train early career rabbis to help effect transformative change in the institutions that they are serving. During the course of the two year program, each participant will be expected to develop a specific innovation that s/he will seek to implement in the community/institution that they are serving.

In this second part of the program we will help participants navigate their respective congregational/organizational cultures to develop an innovation that has the ability to begin shifting the paradigm of the synagogue itself. We will also consider applications from early career rabbis at least one year past ordination who are contemplating or in the process of launching an entrepreneurial spiritual alternative for Jews. CLI was launched in the spring of 2013 with twenty early career rabbis selected from across the denominational spectrum.

The CLI support system methodology

There are three ways that CLI participants will progress through the program. Each year will be kicked off with a three-day retreat which will be an intensive exposure to the year’s program focus (e.g. personal discovery in year one and visionary leadership in year two). The retreats will be led by Rabbis Sid Schwarz, Irwin Kula and guest presenters. Participants will be expected to prepare for the retreats by having read assigned material in advance.

The second support for CLI participants will be peer cohorts. The twenty participants in the program will be divided into five, cross-denominational groups. Each will form a community of practice that will convene once per month for 60-90 minutes (via phone, webinar or alternate platform). Participants will have the chance to present twice per year on where they are in the program progression and benefit from the feedback and input of their peers.

The third support for CLI participants will be an assigned rabbinic mentor. The mentors are successful, mid-career rabbis who have either served as faculty on RWB student retreats or select graduates of the Rabbis Without Borders Rabbinic Fellowship program. The ideal mentor is someone who can serve as a role model for the CLI participant. Even as the goal of CLI is for each participant to find their own, authentic voice, the career path, accomplishments and orientation of the mentor should offer a compelling ideal for the CLIer, inspiring them with the belief that they too can mold a career that can make a difference in the lives of Jews and in the nature of the Jewish community.

Mentor-mentee relationships will be highly customized. We expect that each CLI participant may seek something slightly different from their mentor and we will coach the mentors to be responsive to the expressed needs of their mentees. Since all CLIers will be advancing some innovation agenda as part of their participation in the program, some mentor-mentee relationships may be focused on the progress on that innovation. In other cases, a CLIer might find other support for the innovation project and want to use the time with the mentor on some more practical skills (e.g. how to build a more effective Board, the inherent challenges of a rabbi who wants or needs to raise money, managing conflict in congregational life, etc.) or more personal issues (e.g. owning the power of the rabbinic office, finding work/life balance, self-doubt about rabbinic career path and one’s spiritual calling, etc.).

Mentors will meet with or be on a phone call with their mentees once every other month for approximately one hour. In addition, there will be two 90 minute webinars with all the mentors twice each year. The first webinar, in the fall, will be to discuss the objectives of CLI, key elements of the leadership model that CLI is conveying, the role of the mentor in CLI and the parameters of the mentor relationship. The second webinar, after Shavuot, will be to assess the value of the mentor experience over the course of the year and how it aligns into the overall success of the CLI experience for the participants. There will be a separate assessment of the mentor experience from the perspective of the participants which will provide a feedback loop for the mentors and inform modifications to the program design in future years.

In specific circumstances, some mentor relationships may be changed in the course of the year if the chemistry is not working. All mentors and all participants will have access to project director, Sid Schwarz, throughout the course of the program. Mentors might seek direction on how to make their sessions most supportive of the students and the overall objectives of CLI. Students may want specific coaching about their innovation project or a predicament that they are facing in their congregations that go beyond the time and/or expertise of their respective mentors.

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