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    Whose Brain Are You Using?

    Last Friday, the kids and I went to a kindergarten graduation party (my kids were the “elderstatesmen” as first graders!). In addition to sno-cones, face-painting and goldfish give-aways (thanks a lot!!!), the kids had the opportunity to guess how many pieces of gum were in the Double Bubble container from Costco. Jacob guessed 200, and Sophie asked me to guess for her, so I said 150.

    Well, lo and behold, Jacob won the entire tub, which had 250 pieces! Since we had come to the party on bikes, I had to strap the tub to the back of my bike with bungee cords. On our ride home, Sophie was bemoaning her rare loss of a contest. And while she didn’t blame me (exactly), she did proclaim: “I should have used my own brain!”

    In coaching, I often ask my clients whose voices they hear when thinking about what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do. Many times, it’s the voice of a parent, a supervisor, a friend, a spouse, etc. — rather than their own — which makes the decision about how to progress a noisy one. We work to clear out the clutter of other people’s voices so that the client can hear their own thinking, loud and clear,

    So in honor of Sophie, I ask you to think about this when facing your next set of “shoulds”: Whose brain are you using?


    Deborah Grayson Riegel


    Quiz: Are You Sabotaging Yourself?

    Habitual lateness. Extreme disorganization. Not following up sales leads. Self-sabotage takes on a variety of guises and affects people of all ages, professions and economic levels. But it always leads to our not living the life we want for ourselves. Take this Self-Quiz to see whether you might be working against yourself in some areas.

    1. It takes me at least a half hour to locate a document I need to send to someone.

    2. I can be indecisive and fearful; as a result, chances often pass me by.

    3. I tend to start projects with great gusto, but have great difficulty finishing them.

    4. My financial situation is chronically chaotic.

    5. My actions often jeopardize my relationships, my job and/or my financial stability.

    6. I worry a lot about what others think of me.

    7. I tend to give in to compulsive behaviors to overeat or partake excessively of unhealthy substances or activities.

    8. I seem to be always struggling.

    9. I’ve been told I have a problem expressing anger appropriately.

    10. I often put off the things I need and want to do. Procrastination and reliability are problems for me.

    11. I’m still not living the life I truly want, and I’m starting to lose hope that I ever will.

    12. When I really want to do something, I frequently have the thought that I can’t or shouldn’t do it.

    13. My relationships tend to eventually fall apart, or I stay in unhealthy relationships.

    14. When I think about working out, I immediately start thinking about all the other things I “should” be doing instead. Exercise rarely wins.

    15. I’m often late to work and late with assignments; this has hurt my career.

    16. I avoid confrontation and/or fawn over others in order to be liked and win their favor.

    17. I repeatedly make self-deprecating, belittling comments about myself.

    18. I know I have the potential to do more with my life, if I could just get out of my own way.

    Self-defeating behaviors often mask a fear of change and growing; when we deliberately hamper our own efforts, we get to avoid the knowledge that our life is up to us, and that we do, indeed, get to choose. Just imagine the life we could be having if we put as much energy and creativity into manifesting our goals as we do avoiding them. It’s not easy to change self-sabotaging patterns, but with time and practice—and a good dose of self-love—it is possible to end a self-defeating cycle and live the life we truly want for ourselves.

    Deborah Grayson Riegel, MSW, ACC



    Leadership is about what you DO!

    “Leadership is action, not position.” — Donald H. McGannon, Former CEO, Westinghouse Broadcast Corporation

    Whether you are the board president, the rabbi, rosh yeshiva, CEO — or hold any title that makes people site up and take notice, remember what people really want and need from you — your commitment to roll up your sleeves and participate in a meaningful way.

    I believe that most of us have two fundamental needs, regardless of our role in the organization — the need to benefit and the need to contribute. In fact, when I teach sessions on running effective meetings, those are the two criteria for determining who should attend a meeting. If a meeting participant will neither benefit from nor contribute to a meeting, then give them back their time to do something more useful than sit in on a meeting! Trust me — he or she will thank you for it, and your meeting participants will appreciate a leaner, more focused meeting process.

    Those in Jewish organizational leadership positions often benefit from title, position, status, connections, and paycheck for those in paid positions (and yes, I see you — the one eye-rolling about the idea of benefiting from a Jewish organizational paycheck. But I won’t let you distract me!).

    Here’s the question: does your level of contribution — decisions made, problems solved, resources developed — meet or exceed the benefits you receive from your position? How would your lay or professional counterparts and direct reports answer that if asked about you?

    If you’re not sure, are you willing to ask? If you’re willing to ask, who will you start with? If you’re not willing, why?

    In the words of writer Elbert Hubbard, “Don’t make excuses. Make good.”


    A “Smart Choice” for Trickle-Up Leadership

    When Jacob and Sophie were 4, they graduated from tricycles to two-wheelers with training wheels. And Michael and I graduated from part-time worriers to full-time safety officers, hell-bent on making sure that our kids never, ever rode their bikes without helmets. I believe that, in a moment of typical over-reaction, I told the kids that even if they found themselves sitting on their bikes in the middle of our living room that they were to have their helmets strapped on snugly.

    So a few weeks later, as we’re driving down the street in our minivan, Sophie calls out, “Mommy, look! There’s a boy riding his bicycle without a helmet!”

    And without looking, I say what most helmet-obsessed, sickeningly self-righteous moms would say in that situation, “Well, Sophie, he’s not making a very smart choice, is he?”

    Sophie thought about that for a second, and replied, “But Mommy, what if it’s not a choice?”

    I asked her what she meant, and that when she blew me away with her reply, almost causing me to veer into oncoming traffic:

    “Mommy, what if his family couldn’t afford a bicycle helmet after they bought that bike?”

    Before I had a chance to process her thinking, Jacob – who was not about to be outdone by his sister (who is, after all, a whole minute younger) – chimed in, “Mom? You know what? We have a full tzedakah box in the kitchen at home. Why don’t we use that money to buy bicycle helmets for families who don’t have enough money?”

    I kid you not. You can’t make this stuff up.

    And what does this have to do with you or your organization?

    Leadership that always “trickles down” is missing a major water source. Give those whom you manage (or parent) the opportunity for their ideas and interests to trickle up.

    And what does this have to do with me? Naches, baby. Pure naches.


    Good for the Earth and Good for You: A Fabulous Recycled Blog!

    I just saw this blog entry from friend, colleague and adult Jewish ed guru-ess Jane Shapiro, and it struck me as truly relevant to everyday life. With her permission, I am recycling it here. Boy, do I feel good about my recycling efforts…

    Has anyone else noticed the relationship between heavy metal music and MRIs?
    A Blog By Jane Shapiro

    Jane Shapiro is a presenter and teacher on topics of Jewish history, literature and thought, and on Marketing and Recruitment for Adult Jewish Learning, at nation-wide professional conferences. She has over twenty years of experience as a classroom teacher for adults.

    This week I found myself in one of those awful containers trying to do my best relaxation breathing while the MRI machine clanged away at loud decibels. That is when I began to notice that the frequencies of the magnetic resonance (does anyone remember those cool toys with the slivers of magnet that you could move around on a funny guy’s head to create toupees and moustaches?) sounded a lot like some of the percussion of certain bands that I have heard. Beat boxing and bone rapping.

    To keep myself preoccupied I did what I always do in similar situations: multi-task. Breathing, the clanging, listening to music on the headphones, composing this blog and outlining a presentation I have to make in June at Northwestern Hillel. Classic. Why do one thing when you can do 5?

    I know that there is a lot of press on the evils of multi-tasking (the M word) but I for one find it exhilarating. How better to show that I am in top mental form, at one with the world, creative, moving, shaping, challenging myself, than to be jumping artfully from one big idea to the next. With my Mac I’m even better. I can write, check my email, listen to itunes , talk on the phone and facebook all at the same time. Life beyond boundaries and time zones, endlessly dynamic.

    But then the MRI machine stopped clanging and everything felt altered. It was quiet, my breath became natural and I felt a lot of dissonant parts reassemble themselves.

    Breath and soul are synonymous in Hebrew, covered by the words Neshama (yes like the singer) Nefesh. Additionally there is Ruach which means both wind and spirit.

    Breath signifies life, but these words are also conveying that there is something more to human essence. A Neshama is considered something pure, Tehora, open to the world. As much as we strive to measure ourselves through our gravitas, our weightiness and productivity in the world, we are supposed to see ourselves as buoyant and holy.

    So what does this have to do with multitasking? We have a time-honored tradition as Jews (literally) to balance the two parts of our selves: the creative multi-tasking one, and the Soulful presence. Like other things of value in Jewish life, it gets prioritization in time, in the calendar. March along banging metal for 6 days and then lay off, Shavat so you can enter a phase of vaYinafash (Exodus 31:16-17 for the full quote which I highly recommend.) which translates best as “ensoul yourself”. Breathe, shut down some electronics, recalibrate, become not human but humane once again before the irresistible urge to be creative returns.

    If you think about the expression Shabbat Shalom, it is not trivial. Shalom means a so much more than peace: integrity, reintegration of inside and out, at-one-ness. When one Jew greets another with this saying, it comes from more than a historical and communal place. It seems to me that we are wishing others spiritual wholeness for a brief period of time, that we see in each other so much more than our text messages or facebook walls can convey.

    A final question to pose is how to cultivate a Jewish frame of thinking ( on your terms) that would allow you to shut down the mental heavy metal for 25 hours. What would it be like to turn off your Blackberry for 25 hours?

    (Deb’s note: I first read this on my Blackberry!)


    RA RA for Team Ruach!

    When it comes to getting your staff, volunteers, donors, members, etc. excited and engaged about their work for and connection to your organization, you’re going to need to create a little ruach: “RA! RA!”

    Now before you pull out your high-school pom-poms, try this less embarrassing and more effective approach to rallying the troops:

    R – Recognition: Tell your staff members and volunteers specifically what they have done to make your life easier and/or how they have contributed to the organization’s mission. Make sure that you meet each person’s preferences for how they like to be recognized (publicly vs. privately, in-person vs. over the phone, in writing, with a small token, etc.)

    A – Appreciation: The options are endless and you can find one that fits your budget and timing: take someone to lunch, give a Starbucks gift card, stop and ask them about a hobby or personal interest, offer some schedule flexibility, allot some professional development budget for them, or just take the time to tell them. Oh, and remember handwritten thank you notes? They never go out of style!


    R – Respect: Trade in the Golden Rule (treat others as you would want to be treated) for the Platinum Rule (treat others as THEY would would want to be treated). So, while you are finding out how each of your staff and volunteers defines respect, here’s one universally appreciated gift: Listening. Really listening. That means listening on two levels — for both content (what is being said, and what isn’t being said) and emotion (how the message is being communicated). To do this effectively, you’ll need to put away the Blackberry, turn off the lap top, and get rid of any other distractions. Attentive listening is hard — and desperately needed. But it’s free of charge and looks good on everyone. Try it.


    A – Accountability: When the U.S. Army was looking for a workshop on Accountability, they found my online self-assessment, downloaded it, and called us up for training. I invite you to take this assessment and see where your staff and volunteers may be looking to you for greater leadership:



    When it comes to retaining your organizations most important resources — your human resources — make sure you take the time and make the effort to give them what they need to keep contributing.



    RA! RA!


    The Pain of Participation

    My husband Michael sits on the executive committee of our kids’ Jewish day school. An alum of the school himself, he takes his board work seriously, and is proudly following in the footsteps of his parents (his dad was board president and his mom was president of the Parents Association). And like so many of us involved in mission-driven work, he has come home from his board meetings frustrated at times — with a process, a decision, a comment, etc.

    When I see his annoyance, I often think about a comment I heard from Reconstructionist Rabbi David Teutsch, one of the foremost Jewish communal thinkers in America, who currently leads the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s Center for Jewish Ethics. When discussing the interplay of Jewish values and organizational decision making, he commented that “the people who make the decisions should also feel the pain of those decisions.”

    I have to imagine that he meant pain both literally and figuratively — but I do know that many of us in volunteer work — paid or volunteer — feel that pain, that frustration, that disappointment often enough for us to wonder if this is worth the tsuris.

    While I don’t have the answers, I do have an evocative question for you to ask yourself, shared with me by master coach Steve Mitten:

    Do you want to serve where it’s easy — or where you’re needed?

    What did that bring up for you? What answers? What feelings? What considerations? Sit with your thoughts for a while. Ask yourself again on a different kind of day. Ask your professional or lay counterpart. Have a discussion.

    On my last day of coaching school at Coach U., my esteemed faculty team warned us that coaches are NOT to coach their family members without their permission. I tested that theory out soon after graduation, and found, of course, that they were right on the money.

    So the next time I see Michael come home from a board meeting feeling that way, I think I’ll just hear him out, and maybe let him know that I have a blog entry he might want to check out…


    Seriously…What’s ONE Jacob worth???

    The kids and I were driving to nursery school on a rainy fall day, when we stopped at a red light. The car behind us, unfortunately, did not. Our minivan shuddered with the impact, and, after catching my breath, I immediately turned around to make sure that my then 4 year old twins, Jacob and Sophie, were ok. Both looked stunned but reported that they were unharmed, and so I stepped out of the van to check for damage, which included a banged-up rear bumper and that was about it. The other driver apologized profusely, gave me her insurance information, and the kids and I kept heading towards school.

    Now, if a car accident isn’t a teachable moment, I don’t know what is, so I took advantage of it.

    “Is everyone ok?” I asked again.

    “Yes, Mommy,” they replied.

    Then Jacob asked, “Mommy, is the car ok?”

    “Well,” I continued, “the car did get a little banged up, but the most important thing is that we didn’t get banged up!”

    “How come?” asked Sophie.

    “Think of it this way, Sophie. Which would be easier to replace – our car or our Sophie and Jacob?”

    “We-ell,” Sophie philosophized, “we do know a lot of Jacobs. There’s Jacob Bernstein, and Jacob Schachter and Jacob Pomper…”

    Not quite the lesson I was looking to teach, but it was a logical answer.

    Here’s what I realized in this exchange with Sophie that has changed that way that I communicate with clients, friends and family.

    • Don’t try to teach lessons leading with emotional examples for fundamentally logic-driven people.
    • When you need to be very direct and clear with your message (i.e. “our physical safety is more important than our property.”), don’t make someone guess it.

    And perhaps most importantly…

    • Don’t overestimate personal loyalties (especially in — but not exclusively among — 4 year old twins!)






    As my husband Michael and I were heading to JFK airport, envisioning the sun, sand and frosty beverages of our upcoming “no work allowed” weekend in St. Martin, I peeked into the car to our right to see a frightening sight.

    “Michael,” I exclaimed in horror. “That guy over there is driving with his knees while he texts!”

    Michael turned to me, eyebrow raised. “Jealous?”

    Boy does he know me. Boy oh boy.

    So here are my two pledges, beginning immediately:
    No work on vacations — it’s bad for my relationships, my mental health and for my own business
    No texting while driving — it’s bad for my safety and the safety of those around me

    Now call me an overachiever (please…do!), but I think we could all benefit from identifying ONE habit we need to attend to immediately for your own health, wellbeing or safety.

    What’s yours?


    Looking forward to Freckles: My Day Before Vacation

    I finally did it:

    I used some of the frequent flier miles I have been hoarding for years and booked a NON-WORK TRIP WITHOUT THE KIDS (see that, honey? I didn’t feel a little bit faint this time!)

    Michael and I are going to St. Martin. And St. Maarten. And we’ll probably pop over to Anguilla — because we can. Four days. No kids. But at a hotel with internet access (sorry, hon!!!)

    So here are the questions that got me to this trip…

    • What can I do to better manage my work and my life?
    • Who am I outside of work?
    • To what extent does work define me?

    …and When am I going to schedule another break from work?

    What are your answers? I’d love to know! But not this weekend….



    “Deb has been a respected speaker and facilitator for a number of our JCC conferences over the past few years. While I've heard about her energy, hard work in preparing, and meaningful content, it took her recent keynote speech at our annual JCCs of North America Professional Conference to make me realize what an incredible asset she is. Watching her present a content-filled, energetic, and personalized session -- without using any notes -- was very impressive. Deb is a multi-talented, serious, and impactful presenter."

    – Allan Finkelstein, Past President and CEO, JCC Association of North America

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