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2017-03-24 digital edition

TODAY in the Jewish World:

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


March 24, 2017  RSS feed

Text: T T T

From Strength to Strength

Emilie Socash

Shortly before this edition of the Jewish Press was published, I had a meeting with my fellow Federation staffers on the topic of strengths.

When I stepped into the role of executive director of the organization back in 2015, I invited our small staff to take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test along with me, determining each of our top 5 strengths that we bring to our personal and professional lives each day.

My goal in doing this exercise was somewhat complex: I was stepping into a team that had a well-established culture, I did not know the individuals very well, and even more pressing, I didn’t know myself quite yet in the role of “leader.” By beginning from a strengths perspective, I felt that we could begin our shared task of changing and improving Jewish community from a point of, well, strength.

The results were interesting and the team generally seemed to like the exercise. They were kind enough to humor me, occasionally mentioning their strengths, and even completed a chart that indicated who falls where across a spectrum of four main themes: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Among the three of us – Elana Gerson, director of Social and Philanthropic Entrepreneurship; Diana Morin, Content and Information Manager, and me – we had a lovely spread with execution, influencing, and strategic, with a lighter representation from relationship building.

As we add staff, each person completes this exercise and we add them to the chart. It’s become something of a rite of passage upon entry to our team.

Donald Clifton, who graciously has been called the “Father of Strengths Psychology,” teamed up with the number-crunchers at Gallup to create the online assessment in 1998. They reissued the test as the Clifton Strengths Finder in 2004, shortly after its namesake’s passing. Three years later, the group doubled-down in expanding into a 2.0 version.

But in this most recent meeting, we unpacked some of the concepts hidden within knowing what each of our five strengths were. (If you’re curious, mine are focus, ideation, intellection, learner, and strategic, placing me solidly in strategic thinking with a hint of executing.) We picked apart what each of us brings to the organization, to our work, to our personal lives across the five strongest areas, and reflected on each other’s points of most-applied strengths (as well as least-applied).

The premise of the test is simple: Clifton dreamt it up to answer the question “What would happen if we studied what is right with people?” He built upon this a philosophy that using our innate talents can lead to the consistent achievement of excellence, and that “individuals are able to gain far more when they expend effort to build on their greatest talents than when they spend a comparable amount of effort to remediate their weaknesses” (taken from the StrengthsFinder technical report).

So just what’s a strength? A strength is the result of maximized talents, the mastery created when the top-tier talents are practiced and combined with knowledge and mastery, and ultimately guide all of our behavior.

The idea of strength, and even more powerfully going from strength to strength, is not foreign to the Jewish people. We read in Psalms 84:7 mekhayil el khayil, or May you go from strength to strength. We build upon successes of those who came before us, and even of who we used to be in the past. When looking at what I seek to accomplish in a day, a week, and a year, I can only consider the strengths I will employ by looking at the successful use of strengths that occurred over the past four decades of my life.

Can a community be considered likewise? Can looking at where we’ve been determine how far we can go, and how we can get there?

More specifically, can we put a singular organization through the Strengths Finder to analyze what approaches it uses that are effective, and what are less so?

I propose that we can, and that it offers us a new lens through which to consider our community-building efforts. At the Federation, our organizational strengths that might be revealed could very well be “arranger” (one who organizes and places resources for maximum productivity), or “belief” (bearing core values that are unchanging and offer purpose for life). Maybe our Jewish Federation is strong in “connectedness,” seeing links in all things and refusing to believe that anything is a mere coincidence. And many more come to mind: empathy, ideation, inclusiveness, positivity, restorative, and strategic. It’s hard to look at the list and not identify some possible way that strength could be attributed to the Federation.

I am compelled to bring it full circle, however. Our Federation, and our community as a whole, is only able to exhibit the strengths that are present in our individual members, whether that be those on the payroll at our Jewish organizations, those around the board table, those giving money to the fine work of all of our agencies, or those who participate in Jewish activities. Without the individual, we would not have the culture, commitment, and ultimate strength carrying forward to all aspects of our shared Jewish experience.

What strengths do you bring to the community? What strengths do you see in others? It’s impossible to be blind to them, once you choose to look for them. With that in mind, I find myself tremendously grateful for the strengths and successes that each of you has brought to our community’s culture and vibrancy. It’s upon the successes that came before me, and came before all of us, that we’re able to deploy our best selves, our best strengths, and all that is best about our community.

Liked it? Loathed it? Want to react? I would welcome your feedback and can be reached at

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