Engaging Backups

Leadership Moment: Leaning In for the Needy

This past Shabbat our synagogue graduated seven new adult Torah readers, which deepens our bench of people to leyn Torah (chant from the Torah) each week. Learning to leyn Torah isn’t as easy as “can you read Hebrew?” Reading the Hebrew isn’t all that difficult. The large symbols are the consonants, and the various dots, lines and diacritics are vowels and cantillation (chanting instructions):

Parashat Mishpatim, Exodus 23:6, from https://www.sefaria.org/Exodus.23.6

The challenging part is remembering the vowels and cantillation when you’re reading from a Torah scroll. Note the absence of anything but the consonants (the serifs are just artistic components of the font used by a sofer when scribing the Torah):

also Parashat Mishpatim, Exodus 23:6-7, from a Torah scroll at Temple Shalom of Medford, MA.

When you’re leyning Torah, you make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. It’s such a norm that most synagogues dedicate a person to stand next to you, silently reading the same passage from a book (with vowels), and when you make a critical mistakes (mispronouncing a word to give it a different meaning) or halt for a little too long, they’ll quietly supply the correct word for you.

If they completely fail, there’s even a rule for replacing the service leader (Berakhos 5:3).

Many organizational cultures don’t have a supportive rule like this. Instead, correcting a leader who is in error, or replacing one who fails, is rarely tolerated, let alone celebrated. If you’re leading an organization, how are you making it possible to correct you?

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One Minute Pro Tip: A Correction Backchannel

If you’re using shadowing well, then you’ll have a lot of rooms where someone on your team is hearing you communicate with your peers – often in a shorthand that your shadow isn’t used to. They’ll hear you leave out facts that they think are critical, or summarize in a way they think is wrong, or they’ll know something that you don’t seem to. How will they communicate with you? If you haven’t given them guidance, then you’re likely to be surprised (and that isn’t a good thing for either of you).

Set up a protocol in advance. For most things, they could likely just drop you a message, “Hey, why did you say X?” which the two of you can follow up on later. But if they think it’s critical? Establish a means for them to signal to you in real time. You don’t have to bang on a trash can, but depending on the context, you can use anything from an SMS to a pre-agreed keyword, “Boss, is the Phoenix Project relevant to this conversation?”


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