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Ultra-Busy Leader Stops to Gain Perspective

Occasionally, startup leaders sleep. When heads hit the pillow, work often continues with list-making and idea-generation disrupting dreamtime. So who in their 24-hour right minds would add to their “To Do” list?

Avi Deutsch photo

Meet Avi Deutsch, co-founder and CEO of LAVAN (www.lavanproject.com), a growing community of impact investors guided by Jewish learning to effect social and environmental change.

Like most startup leaders, Avi devotes time to perfecting LAVAN’s offerings, establishing funding streams, shaping employee and volunteer responsibilities, designing programs and testing sustainable business models for his organization. Over a cup of coffee near his Midtown Manhattan office, I can hear Avi is driven by LAVAN’s mission to support a new generation of leaders committed to aligning capital with Jewish values.

As Avi describes it, “LAVAN was founded on the premise that financial decisions are moral decisions. From opening a bank account through investing a 401(k) to deploying our Jewish communal assets, financial decisions impact our society and our planet.”

 In other words, LAVAN helps people put their money where their soul is. To achieve his mission, Avi adds to his “To Do” list: reflection.

The ultra-busy actually need to stop the action.

According to executive coach Jennifer Porter’s March 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review, slowing down is a must. “Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos,” she writes in “Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It”). Stopping the action enables leaders to “untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning.”

“I’m in the trenches every day,” says Avi, who has been in the real trenches as a former Armored Corps officer in the Israel Defense Forces. “And it is hard to see the big picture from the details, the forest from the trees.”

Avi thoughtfully reveals to me why an ultra-busy leader insists on making time to reflect. “To be authentic to my work, to know when to pivot, I need time to get perspective.”

Avi has established practices to ensure that his commitment to professional and personal reflection is more than perfunctory. Startup leaders who want to work smarter, stop and take note.

1. Professional Reflection

Recent research suggests that strategic leaders make up to 35,000 decisions a day. To increase the likelihood that those decisions serve the goals of LAVAN, Avi has found his board and mentors to be invaluable. When preparing for meetings, he says, “I sit down and make an inventory of what I’m working on. I find that to be an incredibly valuable exercise, enabling me to see things in a new light.”

People conversing in small groups during workshop

He also seeks out board members for one-on-one consultation. LAVAN’s board members have professional and personal experience in business and impact investing. As importantly, they embody Jewish values. “I reach out to members regularly. They deeply get our mission, and they help me reflect on ongoing challenges.”

Preparing for board meetings and engaging board members can help startup leaders gain insight when answering complex questions like:

  1. To what degree are our strategies achieving our goals?
  2. What do we focus on next?
  3. How well are we making decisions grounded in our values?
  4. What and how do we measure success?

“While my board makes sure I stay aligned to our values as an organization, my mentors make sure I stay true to my personal mission and career goals. I’m fortunate in that some of my board members are also personal mentors.”

2. Personal Reflection

Instead of going faster to get more done, smart leaders pause long enough to reflect on their goals, skills and assumptions. In Avi’s case, although he has successfully led LAVAN since its founding, he goes to school to grow his skill set and surround himself with other emerging leaders. He holds a degree in economics, philosophy and political science from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; has served as business development manager at a market intelligence platform for impact investors; and has spent a year in Rwanda helping orphaned youth.

And, yet, with all of his experience and education, he rides Amtrak from New York City to Philadelphia to complete his MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Taking time to reflect on one’s own leadership may seem a luxury that the busy can’t afford. But Avi demonstrates that the success of an organization depends on it. “Every time I come back from Wharton I have new ideas—not just for LAVAN, but for my personal growth and for the impact-investing ecosystem as a whole.”

Continued learning can enable a startup leader to reflect on personal leadership questions like:

  1. To what degree does my voice reflect my core beliefs?
  2. When should I be challenging our working assumptions?
  3. What is enabling me to bring my best self to work each day?

Avi credits his reflection and learning practice with directing significant pivots at LAVAN. LAVAN’s initial strategy was to offer pitch events. But after several iterations, it began offering more comprehensive education on impact investing. By asking himself and the people he trusts how to make this presentation more transformational, he helped guide LAVAN in redirecting its work. This year, LAVAN is offering a fellowship to 28 people who will collectively invest more than $250,000 in Jewish-value aligned investments.

My coffee with Avi reveals a busy startup leader must first believe reflection and learning are worthy of task and time. Ticking things off a list feels great, but is an empty exercise without personal and professional meaning-making sourced by time spent dwelling on the hard questions.

When your “To Do” list is too long, the best remedy to sleepless nights is to pause for breath. As busy startup leaders, when you take the time to stop, reflect, and learn, you can quiet those internal voices that keep you up at night. Make calm review an essential part of of your practice. Then, sleep well.


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