Death to Inspirational Fluff

Jewish organizations love inspiration. They love inspirational programs, inspirational speakers, inspirational trips, inspirational articles, inspirational everything.

Love it. Addicted to it.

It gives them goosebumps. It makes their knees weak. It makes them giddy like schoolgirls.

But – problem – inspiration doesn’t work.

Inspiration feels great. But unfortunately, it doesn’t do much else. It doesn’t educate. It doesn’t empower. It doesn’t do anything.

Inspiration is fluff.

Think about the last inspirational thing you experienced, Jewish or not. Maybe it was a TED Talk, a motivational speaker, a self-help book, a Kumbaya group experience, or something like that. It was probably awesome, inspiring, motivational, transformative. Right?

And what happened next?

Nothing. Nada. Bupkis.

Why not? You were inspired. You felt it. You wanted it. But.

Real change – real success, real achievement, real leadership – is real work. It takes effort, focus, determination, tenacity, consistency. And lots of it.

And you weren’t ready for that. Not yet.

That TED presenter, motivational speaker, inspiring author, carefree group leader; he was ready. He was motivated. And that was why he was successful. That was why he was a leader. That was why he was giving a presentation. He took that and spoon fed it to you: a condensed, easy-to-digest, easy-to-hear, action packed, and God-forbid-not-boring presentation with bullet points, high tech graphics, slideshow, and motivational message.

It felt great. You loved it. But that was about it.

A great message – or a great experience – will not make you successful, it will not change you, it will not make you a leader. Those things come from you. You have to be motivated. You have to be ready to bite the bullet and make sacrifices. And it is still difficult – that is why it is called sacrifice, sacrifice stinks – but at least you stand a chance.


But try explaining that to an inspiration-addicted Jewish organization. Jewish organizations don’t get it. Inspiration is a magic pill – an expensive magic pill – a pill they distribute like candy. They give you amazing experiences. They expose you to amazing people. They fly you around the world. They give you access to power and money. And those experiences and people are inspirational.

But inspiration isn’t motivation.

Many Jewish organizations are obsessed with Leadership Training. They target potential leaders – students, leadership candidates – and tell them they are special. They tell them, “You deserve a free trip or a free program or a stipend or a scholarship.” They recruit. They offer goodies. They convince people to participate.

And people sign up. Of course they do. It’s free. Free is good. Free is exactly what a moderately-affiliated, loosely-identified, young Jewish leader is looking for.


But that’s it. The programs don’t make demands – not real demands – nothing serious. They give their students an amazing experience. They inspire them – their students really do get inspired – and they hope for the best.

And nothing happens, or very little happens. The good feelings, good intentions, great vibes, and inspiration don’t translate into results. Not usually. Inspiration doesn’t equal buy-in. It isn’t a commitment. Not a real one.

There are exceptions. There are always exceptions.

But usually not.

Feel-good fluff does not make Jewish leaders. You don’t inspire Jewish leaders. You empower them: You find motivated people. You give them challenges. You make them work together. And you give them independence.

Real leadership training is expensive. Charge for it. Charge a lot for it. Make your students raise the money to participate. You can offer a matching grant – match your students dollar-for-dollar – but they still have to raise half. Make them earn it.

A real leader is willing to pay. If he isn’t, he isn’t ready.

And real leadership training is work. Work your students like dogs. If you run a leadership training program and your participants don’t hate you by the end of it, you blew it. The best teams hate the coach. The best soldiers hate basic training. The best doctors hate their residency.

That’s the way it is.

Overcoming adversity forces people to take responsibility. It teaches them to solve problems. It teaches them independence. And it makes them into a team.

And that’s the way it should be.

If you want to see change in the Jewish world. You need to find leaders. You need to offer them an opportunity. You need to give them the ability to earn that opportunity.

You have to educate them, too. You have to give them the tools to grow and to gain a deeper awareness and insight. You have to give them space. And you have to give them room to fail. And if they go for it, work them.

Push them.

And push them until they are independent. Push them until they feel responsible to solve the problem.

They will curse you. The will hate you. But once they are successful, they will thank you.

Don’t inspire. Don’t make people feel good. Empower them. Empower them to change the world.

About the Author
Tzvi Gluckin is an author and musician. He currently serves as the director of Vechulai, an innovative Jewish think tank located in Boston.