Mentoring and Stepping Back

January 27, 2023Nicole Villalpando


That’s the number of years I served on my Sisterhood board. When I started in 2000, I was six weeks pregnant. That baby has now graduated college, and his younger sister graduated high school.

A lot happened in the years I served on my Sisterhood board, both in my life and the life of my Sisterhood. By Fall of 2022, it was time to step back. It was time to get out of the way of other women so they could lead.

Could you be holding back future leaders? Are you the one who is afraid that if you don’t step up, no one will take your place? Been there, done that.

Here’s what became painfully obvious: even if I had no official role in my sisterhood other than their WRJ rep when I served on the WRJ Executive Committee or was Southwest District President, the women of the board looked at me every time a decision needed to be made. They looked at me when it came to forming a nominating committee. They looked at me when there was an unfilled position, or a job that needed to be done.

And I filled in – whatever needed to be done. I have been everything from recording secretary to gift shop manager, to president to membership chair to food chair.

We still needed fresh blood. Three years ago, when we found ourselves without a president, I and some other past presidents formed a leadership council. The five of us each took a major part of the work with the intention of mentoring the next generation of WRJ leaders, including a woman we had identified as the next president. She,in turn, had two years to start building her team. 

Then, this June, for the first time, I installed a board that didn’t include me. Yet, I was still asked to come to board meetings. Knowing myself, if I attended board meetings, I would jump in again. I would give myself a position. I would butt in with advice, whether they wanted it or not.

I made the leadership a deal. I am here for them. I am a text or a phone call away. If there is something they need done, they can call me and ask, after asking others first. I will step up, but only if it’s something I want to do, and have the capacity to do. I will not spread myself thin again. And if I do agree to something, I will teach others to do it for the next year.

This year, it has looked like this:

  • I attend book club if I’m available because I enjoy it.
  • I went to lunch in the Sukkah because I was available. I did not go to the reopening of the Judaica shop because I wasn’t available.
  • I have been to only one board meeting, and I attended that virtually while cleaning my house. That kept my mouth shut, except when it was time to give my report on the event I was chairing.

That event was the Break Fast, something I got “voluntold” to do. Our Break Fast was going to be very complicated. It was the first in-person one since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. It was also complicated because of the arson at our synagogue on Halloween 2021. We would have to move everything from our kitchen to the kitchen and social hall at a church where we were holding our services. The last time we had to make such a move was 21 years ago when our sanctuary flooded, and I happened to be the chair of that event. They knew I had the expertise to coordinate such a move, and I said, “Yes.” Or at least I didn’t say, “No.” 

I brought along dozens of volunteers, divided the jobs into pieces, and let others make decisions. Where do the napkins go? Wherever you think. How should we separate the gluten-free desserts? You decide. My days of micromanaging were done. I now empower others.

There is power in stepping back. New leaders have emerged. Fresh ideas have begun to flow from others. There is an energy that had not happened in years.

Best yet, I get to enjoy a Sisterhood event and not worry about whether it will come off as planned.

The leaders of my Sisterhood know I’m there if they need me… and guess what? They don’t. They are all grown up, just like my kids. I had to step back to see them thrive. And they are thriving. I get to be the proud mama in the pews rather than the person at the podium. And that’s a great place to be.

So, I ask you: Have you become resentful that others don’t step up? Are you the one holding others back from leading? Are you training-up new leaders by empowering them to make the decisions?

What would it look like to not go to every board meeting, or every event if you’ve been doing so  for decades?

Has your sisterhood become a hood of only a handful of women? Or is it an expansive, diverse group of women?

What is getting in the way? Is it you?

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