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Case study cites Spertus leadership transition as best practice

Case study cites Spertus leadership transition as best practice

Spertus Institute among six national Jewish organizations showcased in Leading Edge study of leadership transition

As an example of best practice, Spertus case study documents transition from Dr. Hal M. Lewis to Dr. Dean P. Bell

New York-based Leading Edge released a series of powerful case studies profiling CEO transitions at six different major Jewish organizations across the country, including Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.

Prepared by Eben Harrell, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review (HBR), the case studies offer a candid and personal look at the inner workings of a CEO transition process. They are rich with first person accounts from key figures involved—the outgoing and incoming CEOs, board members, and others—and address key issues for all nonprofit organizations today, including generational and gender differences in approach to leadership, organizational culture change, best practices for search committees, and more.

Dr. Hal M. LewisThe Spertus case study is one of three highlighting internal candidates who were selected as new CEOs. About its selection of Spertus as an organization to profile, the report says: “If one of the indications of a high-performing organization is its ability to identify, develop, and promote talent from within, then Spertus certainly did something right.” As an example of best-practice, the Spertus case study documents the process by which Dr. Dean P. Bell, current CEO and a 25-year veteran of Spertus, was carefully groomed for the top leadership role over a three-year period by his predecessor, Dr. Hal M. Lewis, now Spertus Chancellor and principal consultant for Leadership For Impact LLC.

Bell’s long tenure and steady ascent at Spertus are outliers in an era of job-hopping and high employee turnover. He was steadily promoted and stretched—but never to a point of frustration or burnout. “One of the things I love about Spertus is that it is a culture of learning,” Bell says. “I feel like I haven’t stopped growing. If I did, I probably wouldn’t still be here.” His growth was in concert with Lewis’ particularly intentional process of stepping down from the top spot. Lewis’ tenure had secured the organization’s longterm financial stability. As the next step, he felt the organization needed to transition “to a growth mindset.” He determined that he had to focus on what was in Spertus’ best interest, even if it meant stepping aside from a leadership position that he loved. “The first thing it should say in the CEO’s owner manual is ‘it’s not about you,’” Lewis says, referring to the tendency of charismatic CEOs to overstay their usefulness. “You can’t be a hanger-on. You have to be clear-eyed about when it’s time for you to move on.”

“Leadership transitions are unique moments that simultaneously can create a sense of loss at an organization and an opportunity to clarify a vision or reinvigorate the sense of purpose,” says Gali Cooks, President and CEO of Leading Edge. “We want to pull back the curtain on the multi-dimensional and very human process of leadership transitions. These six compelling stories offer lessons about how Jewish organizations can best prepare and position leaders to succeed.” Each story reflects and articulates the deep level of intentionality, thoughtfulness, and purpose with which the board and search committee approached the process. Among the board voices referenced are Spertus Chairman Peter Bensinger, Jr., and Trustee Donna Barrows, both leaders in Chicago’s Jewish community.

Read the Case Study or listen to it in audio form  

The other organizations profiled are American Jewish World Service (New York), Bend the Arc (New York), Combined Jewish Philanthropies (Boston), a Jewish Community Center in the Midwest, and Tufts Hillel (Medford, MA). The complete series of case studies can be accessed at:


Leading Edge was founded in 2014 by 15 foundations and federations to help build the leadership pipeline for the Jewish nonprofit sector. Leading Edge influences, inspires, and enables dramatic change in attracting, developing, and retaining top talent for Jewish organizations by creating a forum for the sector to address talent and culture issues.

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership offers dynamic learning opportunities, rooted in Jewish wisdom and culture and open to all. Graduate programs and workshops train future leaders worldwide. Public programs, designed to engage individuals in exploration of Jewish life, take place at the Institute's Michigan Avenue facility, in the Chicago suburbs, and online. Spertus Institute is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

Thursday, October 17, 2019