Paula Goldstein | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Paula Goldstein


Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, which traces its roots to 1855, works to strengthen families and individuals across generations and cultures to achieve stability, independence and community. The organization is set to open a new 18,000-square-foot therapeutic facility in Bala Cynwyd.


The Mistake: 

I think one of the major life lessons I've had in terms of leadership has been this: in order to promote change, you have to honor the past. It's natural for a leader to want to come in and do some new things, but if that leader doesn't look at the history of the organization first, and honor the contributions of others, they will have a difficult time implementing the necessary changes that may move the organization forward. That's a biggie—I've learned that lesson many times. 

For instance, my most recent big-thinking strategic plan for our organization was a little bit different of a plan than the others that came before. We created the plan and we had the goals and ideas for implementation, but there wasn't a physical binder that we handed out laying out everything—one of those things that gets put up on a shelf but nobody ever looks at. Our idea was that our plan was a real living, breathing thing. But our board was really struggling with it. We had to take about seven steps back and really talk about it, really review what nonprofits need, really hear about the benefits of the previous plans before moving forward on this one. It can be tough, because as leaders we always want to move forward, but you have to be careful, too.

In order to promote change, you have to honor the past.

The Lesson: 

I think I'm in the position I'm in because I like change. I think it's very healthy, because that's always been the M.O. that we've had. But I've also had to really temper that [ideology] with the older board members and make sure I make time to ask them, 'What were we like back then? What was the most important thing we did back in the '60s or the '70s?' It really does go a long way in terms of implementing change. 

I also think that leadership is a collective. It's never about one person. It's about bringing many people together and making sure that everyone has a sense of ownership in [the vision]. The reality is that a healthy organization needs a leadership collective. 

Follow Paula Goldstein on Twitter at @JFCS_Philly.

Photo courtesy of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia​.