Successful Leadership is a Balance Between Dreaming Big & Taking Consistent Action; with Yossi Ives
What started as a small idea, turned into an international humanitarian organization. Yossi Ives founded Tag International Development based on the idea that other countries could benefit from Israel’s experience with rapid growth.
He’s held many roles throughout his career so far, and knowing when to transition to a new role has been a key to success. In the interview below, Yossi shares insights into finding the balance between “dreaming” and “doing.”
Tell me about your organization and the work that you do.
I had a very faint idea about thirteen and a half years ago. There’s a small country called Israel, that had gone from being extremely poor and undeveloped into an economic and technological superpower in a very short space of time, despite enormous difficulties. I felt that many other countries would benefit by understanding more about what was done to make this happen. At that point I knew no more than that, I had this basic instinct, an initial thought, that maybe this is something where I could be helpful in promoting more of it. I knew almost nothing, but I decided that it would be worth pursuing the idea and seeing where it takes me. And out of this grew Tag International Development, a humanitarian organization aimed at sharing Israeli expertise with developing countries.
Over time we found our focus, which for the past five or six years has been in three areas: livelihoods, mainly agriculture; mother and baby health, primarily around childbirth and early childhood; and youth empowerment, mainly around life and employability skills.
We also have done projects in 12 countries, everywhere from Ukraine to Turkey, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Indonesia, Myanmar… Over the past period of years we decided to focus on two countries and really deepen our involvement there, so the two countries we’ve been working on most recently are Kenya and Myanmar.
What was your background originally before you started this?
I have two titles before my name which kind of sums it up: Rabbi, Doctor. The rabbi part is that I’m a minister of religion, and for quite a few years had various roles as a Jewish religious educator and spiritual guide. So that gave me the values, my belief in doing whatever we can to make things a little easier for our fellow human beings.
The doctor part is I have a background in coaching psychology. I’m a qualified life coach, and I have made a point to try to understand how you can get people to be more functional, to achieve their goals more successfully and fully. By pure coincidence I ended up getting involved in relationship coaching, and discovered I have a real knack for helping single people who have been trying to figure out how to have a secure a lasting relationship. So that’s become my specialty. If you go onto Amazon, or any other book selling site, and you type in my name, you’ll see the books I’ve written that cover Jewish topics and psychology.
Throughout your whole career, along your journey so far, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson you can learn is be careful what you wish for. It’s basically dreaming. My actual, legal name is Yosef, which is Hebrew for Joseph. Joseph was a dreamer, and he had these seemingly wild ideas about what the future would be for him, and had the audacity to tell other people what he thought could happen. It didn’t make him tremendously popular, but it turned out he ended up achieving those dreams, albeit he went through a fair amount of hassle in the process. And I feel that’s really the lesson. You need to be willing to dream, you need to be willing to think completely out of the box. If you think that you can help humanity, then maybe you can. Somebody may say to you “Look, you’ve none of the training for this, you have none of the background for this, you know nothing about this, this is ridiculous, why don’t you do something you know?” And it’s very easy just to stay in your lane.
The willingness to think the unthinkable, not just to shut yourself down and say “I guess that’s a crazy idea.” You know what? It is a crazy idea, maybe that’s what’s good about it. It’s the one half, and the other half of the idea is you’ve got to be willing to stick it out.
Part of the problem with dreamers is that they generally do a lot of dreaming, and so when they’ve finished dreaming one dream they start with the next one. But dreams don’t happen by dreaming them, they happen because when you’ve stopped dreaming you then decide to try the next ten years of your life making it happen. And you’ve got to step away from the dreaming, and just put your head down and battle to make even a part of your dream a reality.
What I try to do is to think of crazy ideas, but then once I’ve thought of it to spend several years working very hard to do something about it, otherwise nothing’s going to come of it.
Even a bird with the widest wings, who can soar to the greatest heights, has at some point got to land to rest their feet. You cannot fly all the time, you’ve got to come back down to earth and you’ve got to say “Okay, I really believe that my idea is a good idea, I’m going to have to now find the right means to translate that idea into a practical project that can be implemented in the real world.”
What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?
“Don’t try to do it all.” By that I mean to say, know your limitations, focus on what you’re good at. Not that you don’t try to do things that you don’t know how to do, but that you don’t try to do them alone. I would say my biggest successes have been when I’ve brought around me the right people, and my biggest struggles were when I’ve tried to do everything myself.
When you have an idea, and you feel like you’re the only person who really gets the idea because it’s yours, it’s very difficult to then believe other people want to do the thing that you want to do in the way that you would like. So it’s very tempting to just say, “You know, I’m going to stick with this myself.” Huge mistake, because even though it’s true that when other people come on board they change the idea, sometimes maybe not even for the best, maybe sometimes you would have wanted it differently, and the concession of having other people involved is that you’ve got to listen to them. The alternative is a whole lot worse.
What is your vision for the future, either for your organization or the world, or both?
I’m going to start taking my own advice. I want to focus on what I feel is really unique to me. Not just the dream, but also the application.
If I look at international development, in the end it’s got to impact people on the ground. Some organizations are raising awareness, advocating, but they’re never on the ground actually doing the project, making the real-world difference. So for quite a number of years, I was focused on making a practical impact. But now I am ready to switch gears.
I am a minister of religion, I’m a person who knows how to share ideas, how to inspire people, I’m an academic and a professional. I have skills in how to take ideas and formulate them well and communicate them in different ways. And that’s something which I feel if I put myself into, make them my focus, that would be the correct thing to do. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that that is okay. If I pull away a little bit from being the action man, and think more about how I can be an influencer, that is no less legitimate.
I’ve had a number of years of experience doing all the things that I’ve done. I feel that there comes a point when it’s right to change roles. There comes a point in the trajectory when a person can see that they’ve made their point, they’ve gone and they’ve done all these things. Now, maybe they could be the influencer, maybe they need to be the thought leader, maybe they need to leave others to do the day-to-day stuff, and realize that they’ve now earned the right to hand it back. They’ve accumulated the responsibility to play a different kind of role, to nurture the next generation.
For example, my wife is a high school principal, and it took me a while to convince her that was the right role for her. She was saying she loved the classroom, she loved teaching, and sitting in a principal’s office spending a lot of time administrating is not what she went into the profession for. I had to convince her that there comes a point where you need to empower other teachers, you need to look to how you’re going to lead your profession. It’s hard when you’re used to being the person who’s actually doing it, and then you’re told that you need to be the one leaving others to do it. But that’s what you have to do.
You become the advisor, you become the mentor, you become the person who is the guide. You absolutely have to learn to transition well. Bosses who don’t learn to transition well, they take the company down, and they take themselves down in the end. Life is made up of phases, and one has to be able to recognize when reaching the end of one phase, and how you’re going to play your role in the next stage of life.
What action do you want readers to take?
Understand the tension between these different poles, the yin and the yang. It’s all about finding one’s own balance between them and one’s own place. Try not to be too rigid in your mindset. Try not to say “Well, I’m an ideas person” or “I’m an implementation person,” we need people who can transition between the two. Just because you have a great idea, it won’t happen unless you figure out how to do something about it.
People in organizations try to hold on to the same role forever, because that’s how they see themselves, and they can’t imagine another way. People have to try to imagine the next phase before it comes up on them, try to plan when you see that you’re no longer fired up the way that you were, or you feel that you’ve developed an insight that you feel you could use in a more effective way. Be ready to change.
Find Yossi Online
Tag International Development: http://www.tagdevelopment.org
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