Elevate – A Leadership Journey

By Jen Taylor, LCSW-C

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of the NY Times bestselling book, Think Again, said recently on social media that, “many of the people who are most excited to learn about leadership are narcissists.” That felt a little jarring to me since I just completed a six-month program studying that very topic. In his social media post, Grant goes on to clarify that, “people with inflated egos are drawn to theories that glorify leader dominance and charisma. [On the contrary], great leaders view their roles as an act of service, not an avenue for authority and attention.”  

The Elevate Program by Na’aleh is a six-month deep-dive into leadership that challenges traditional views of leaders as dominant, authority figures and instead believes that “anyone can lead from any seat at the table.” As a recent Elevate graduate and manager of Therapy Services at Jewish Community Services, I experienced that this collaborative and expansive view of leadership was woven into every lesson and meeting in this program and helped cultivate a mindset of leadership as an act of service that can be at times, “risky and uncertain.” 

In speaking with my fellow participants, there was a common theme – many of us talked about being thrust into leadership positions from an early age. Some were their grade class presidents, others were teen camp counselors, and many became the organizers and planners of their family reunions and vacations. Now we are all managers in various programs within The Associated system leading teams of employees, running programs like the Jewish Community Center’s summer camp, and working with lay leaders and staff members in Jewish synagogues and schools.   

So, why would we choose to study leadership in the Elevate program if leadership is something that we could say we already know and do? From what I gathered through conversations and observations over the six-program, my fellow participants: 

  • Strive for excellence and want to be good at their jobs. 
  • Want to strengthen the relationships they have within their teams. 
  • Hope to inspire their teams to achieve even greater goals than they already have. 
  • Look for collaboration and community building with other leaders within the Associated system. 
  • Value mentorship from those above them and want to pay it forward to younger professionals. 

Elevate gave us all an opportunity to think about what we do as leaders and how we are perceived by the people around us. Do we show up for meetings rushed and distracted? Or are we present and engaged, just as we expect from everyone else? Do we dictate and demand how people solve problems or can we ask questions and coach our team members to test out solutions? Do we provide feedback that is positive and helpful or are we still using that outdated and ineffective compliment sandwich 

Through large group teaching, small group experiential practice, and group retreats, the Na’aleh team teaches managers how to be leaders that solve adaptive challenges facing their respective agencies. Adaptive challenges are the ones that don’t have easy answers – the kind of problems that we talk about in meetings and then struggle to actually solve. Using the skills learned in the Elevate cohort, we as leaders are able to return to our teams and change the way that problems are discussed so that new solutions can be tested. And as a bonus, we each learned how we might be contributing to the problem and how we can be proactive and responsible for our own behaviors throughout the process.  

The opportunity to connect with other managers who could maintain a confidential space to discuss difficult and challenging situations, but who are removed enough from the specific interoffice dynamics to be objective and helpful, was invaluable. Many people are placed in supervisor positions because they were good at the technical aspects of their jobs. After these promotions, they are given mentorship and even specific training on how to do the administrative tasks of managers. Rarely does an organization invest in teaching managers how to be leaders.    

What would you do differently if you could expand your role from manager to leader? How would that knowledge help you to create a team of employees that are engaged, connected, and satisfied with their work? Opportunities like Na’aleh’s Elevate program are a great place to start asking and answering these questions.

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C is a Clinical Therapist at Jewish Community Services.

Jewish Community Services (JCS) is dedicated to providing programs and services that help people of all ages and backgrounds achieve their goals and enhance their wellbeing.  

To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.

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