An Interview with David Friedman
Interviewed by Pamela Gerloff
MTM: You have held a number of visible positions of leadership. Do you think someone has to be in a high-level position to be a leader?
FRIEDMAN: No, I don't. True leaders are found in every sector: in classrooms, in work places, in families, at home. A true leader is someone who is here to be of service-to serve his or her group. A true leader is always asking the question, "What is the highest good in this situation? How can I be of service here?" The answer may mean offering very strong opinions or suggestions, or it may mean being willing to step back and let the soup simmer.
MTM: How do you know which action to take?
FRIEDMAN: It's a blend of experience and intuition. I liken the process to keeping an airplane on course. Though I've piloted the plane numerous times, I've never traveled this exact route. I have skill, but I need to check in internally and, when things are off course, begin to bring them back on course.
I don't want to minimize the importance of external tools in leadership, such as strategic planning, visioning, facilitating, and coaching. They are all very important. Yet you also need to check inside.
MTM: What has been your biggest challenge as a leader?
FRIEDMAN: My biggest leadership challenge has been to make sure I stay connected to my own heart and soul as I'm leading, and to stay open to listening to those around me. I've learned that leadership is both external and internal; to be a good leader requires one to monitor both external and internal input. For instance, someone may express an opinion and I need to ask, "What's underneath that? Is this person bringing in another agenda?" At the same time, the other person needs to be respectfully listened to and heard. The challenge is to honor outer and inner voices at the same time.
MTM: Who or what has most influenced your development as a leader?
FRIEDMAN: I would say that, besides Robert Greenleaf, author of The Servant as Leader 1 , three people have significantly influenced my view of leadership. The first is Robert Gass, a dear friend of mine, who offers training courses on the art of leadership through the Rockwood Foundation. Robert believes that we, as leaders, are to view our work as nurturing seedlings. Our work is to provide water, soil, and fertilizer to allow our people and organization to grow.
The second is my teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who has helped me bring a Jewish lens to philanthropy and leadership. He often uses the expression, "We're here to be deployed." often think of myself as awaiting "assignments" and then acting to carry them out. Whether it has been my work at Sandy River Health System (a longterm care organization I co-founded), the Jewish Funders Network, the Yesod Foundation, or other leadership positions I have held, I consider that I have been asked to do certain work for a higher purpose, and being deployed has become my context for leadership.
The third influence is my father. My philanthropic roots began with him. He modeled for my sister and me an unusual generosity-of heart, spirit, and dollars. We were a middle-class family- we did not have great financial wealth- yet my father gave to everyone. He would always say, "We're here on this Earth to help our fellow humans. If we're fortunate to have something and we can give them a hand, we should do it." He has lived out that philosophy in the business world and I try to do the same.
MTM: What about your own personal journey? What paths have led you to where you are today?
FRIEDMAN: Rabbi Zalman says that you only realize how Spirit has been working in your life when you look back on it. My life and my leadership have certainly unfolded in ways I never could have predicted.
My dream as a young man was to go to Harvard Business School [HBS]. I went to Harvard as an undergraduate, but when I got to HBS in 1971, I found that it wasn't a fit with my own social justice outlook. I took a leave of absence and moved to the back woods of Maine, where I began my entrepreneurial career. I formed my own real estate company, with the perspective that my work was tonurture and create a healthy environment for my people. I developed the largest Century 21 office in rural Maine, and ended up selling the company to my employees. It was a healthy exchange.
"The servant-leader is servant first.. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. He or she is sharply different from the person who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. For such it will be a later choice to serve-after leadership is established. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servantfirst to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served."
-From The Servant as Leader
by Robert Greenleaf
(The Greenleaf Center, 1970, 1991)
To learn more about servant-leadership, visit The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership at http://www.greenleaf. org" target="_new"> www.greenleaf. org or call 317-259-1241.
I then spent a number of years partnering with visionary (typically, husbandand- wife) nurse teams. Our company, Sandy River Health System, provided business and development expertise; the nurse teams provided the operations. Over time, Sandy River Health System emerged as both the developer and operator. We continue to own and operate 1,000 long-term beds in Maine.
During that time, I met people from the Threshold Foundation, a community of people with significant financial resources who are committed to using their wealth for social change, and that also shaped my philanthropy. Most of Threshold's members are of inherited wealth. Although I had made my own funds, I appreciated the heart and soul of the group, the opportunity to make a philanthropic difference, and the chance to look at issues of money, power, responsibility, and service. It was a wonderful training ground. I served on Threshold's board and was involved in the organization for a number of years.
Then, in 1989, my first wife was diagnosed with leukemia. Being with her for the next 17 months until she died took me on a painful odyssey. It shook up my sense of who I was. I continued on began to ask questions like, Why am I here? What's this all about? Sensing that I needed changes, I moved to Boulder, Colorado with my two youngest children -the older two were already in college. I was 46 at the time.
My closest friends invited me to a Jewish High Holiday service. I had been raised in a Jewish background but had left my Jewish roots, so I attended quite reluctantly. But I was so moved by everything there: the incredible woman rabbi, Tirzah Firestone; the heartfulness; the aliveness; the joy; the depth. The next day I went back to services on my own. Over the next few years, I continued to deepen my connection with God and with spirit. Eventually, I married Tirzah. I later met Rabbi Zalman, who became a teacher and mentor for me.
As I learned and studied, I saw a Judaism that was far more alive than I had known before. It was a Judaism seen through a lens of social justice, a deeply ethical Judaism. By that I mean that every religion can be viewed as a vital organ of the body. All are needed. I am proud of Judaism, while appreciating the contribution that each religion makes to the world. I embrace my own roots, but I don't have to put down any other religion or philosophy to do it.
MTM: Has this understanding influenced your current leadership as cochair of the Jewish Funders Network?
FRIEDMAN: Yes. It has helped me to value philanthropic interests of all kinds and actively seek to support them. Six years ago, I went to a JFN meeting and met a community of fellow funders where diversity of perspectives was embraced. Now I am co-chair with a wonderful woman from Israel named Cheri Fox. Imagine coordinating efforts, meetings, and conference calls with a coleader who lives in a time zone nine hours later than you and in a radically different culture! Yet I see this as a wonderful opportunity to share leadership with someone who has a different perspective yet shares common values.
The success of this approach is demonstrated by the growth of the organization since we have been cochairs. During our tenure, the organization has expanded its membership, doubled its budget, and grown its staff from two to eight people. We now have one conference a year and programs going on every week. Cheri and I are both grateful to be equal co-leaders.
MTM: Shared leadership seems to be a big part of your philosophy of leadership, as well as of JFN's.
FRIEDMAN: Indeed! The words collaboration and partnership are often given lip service in the philanthropic world, but JFN has worked hard to make them a fact. Leadership in our organization-especially shared leadership -is a vital part of who we are.
For example, at JFN we have attracted a board of 24 individuals who each make a varied contribution. It is a diverse mixture of ages of both women and men who are passionate about different issues, whether education, spirituality, or social justice. The mix of personalities and perspectives brings out the aliveness in people, if you're willing to respect it. At JFN, we respect and embrace debate on challenging issues.
We deliberately involve younger funders and welcome them to leadership positions on the board and on our executive committee. They don't have to check their personal and political identities at the door. As a result, we have a very active contingent of young leaders.
MTM: Your leadership at JFN is focused on Jewish philanthropy. How do you think Judaism influences philanthropic leadership?
FRIEDMAN: One distinct element of Judaism is the concept and practice of tzedaka , which literally means acts of justice , but is often translated as giving or philanthropy . It is a fundamental precept of Judaism that we have an obligation to give back; it is not a choice. At a recent JFN event, the well-known philanthropist George Soros acknowledged his Jewish identity as the basic reason he does what he does in the world. Although he is not overtly funding Jewish organizations, the underlying fabric and philosophy of his philanthropy are rooted in his identity as someone who is making the world a better place. Fundamentally, what all authentic leaders are doing at this time in world history is, to use a Jewish term, tikkun olam , or mending the world . When we understand our purpose, live with integrity, and lead from the heart, we are modeling a new kind of leadership- one that is desperately needed today. In the end, leadership is about welcoming and encouraging people to connect to their highest vision and serve the greatest common good-to work together as a team to transform our world.
1The Servant as Leader by Robert Greenleaf, The Greenleaf Center, 1970, 1991. Available at www.greenleaf.org .
David Friedman currently co-chairs the Jewish Funders Network, a national organization dedicated to advancing the growth and quality of Jewish philanthropy in both Jewish and secular causes. He is president and co-founder of the Yesod Foundation, which promotes Jewish spirituality through the vision of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He is also co-founder and current chair of Sandy River Health Systems, Maine's largest provider of long-term care to the elderly. In 1989, Mr. Friedman helped start the Social Venture Network, a pioneering organization in the field of ethical investing and responsible business development. He is a past board member of the Threshold Foundation, Calvert Social Investment Fund, and UFP Technologies, a NASDAQ company.
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved