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The Technical, the Emotional, and the Both

by Mordy Walfish
Reflecting on Leading Edge's 2022 acquisition of Boardified in this article for The Wexner Foundation, Leading Edge Chief Operating Officer Mordy Walfish highlights the interplay between technical and emotional factors, as well as the importance of transparent communication, in facilitating a smooth integration.

"Over the past year, I’ve had the fascinating opportunity to play a key role in the acquisition and subsequent integration of one organization into another. This process turned out to be equal parts technical and emotional, and the biggest thing I learned in this process is to keep both parts front and center. Not only are the technical and the emotional both important levels of the work in any collaboration, but each affects the other profoundly, and the line between them can blur."

Leading Edge, where I’m privileged to serve as COO, is a fast-growing, eight-year-old, non-profit focused on helping Jewish organizations improve their workplace culture and leadership so that they can better achieve their missions. Just over a year ago we acquired Boardified, a fiscally sponsored initiative focused on strengthening board leadership in the Jewish non-profit sector. The impetus for the acquisition appeared to be technical: Leading Edge’s work necessarily included strengthening board leadership alongside professional leadership, so why have more than one organization focused on these efforts? While this technical rationale is certainly valid on its own terms, there were major emotional dimensions at play that helped drive the ability to realize and act on it. First, there was the humble recognition on the part of Leading Edge’s CEO, Gali Cooks, and that of our leadership, that this area of work was one in which Leading Edge was struggling to gain traction, despite multiple efforts to do so. We perceived Boardified as serving as a major and necessary boon to us achieving our mission, rather than a competitor of sorts that we needed to “beat”, as is sometimes the case in non-profit mergers.

On the Boardified side, they were coming to the conversation from a place of strength — they were thriving yet wanted to be a part of something bigger. They put ego and brand aside to focus on mission alignment and constituents, which truly made all the difference.

At the same time, saying “yes” to this acquisition required both organizations to undergo a shift in their own self-perceptions. Leading Edge was accustomed to being the young, small, scrappy startup. In fact, at the time of the acquisition, we had only been an independent non-profit ourselves for five years, and we had grown from a staff of three to 13 in that time. Leaning into the role of the acquiring partner meant that we had to take a close, hard look at our systems to ensure they were ready; to ask our staff to absorb exponential change, amidst an always-changing environment; and remind ourselves that there is no going back to being an under-the-radar organization — we were putting our stake in the ground and positioning ourselves to be a major player in new spaces. On Boardified’s side, they had to take a new perspective on their work — from the team, culture, and programs they had built to the relationships and image they had so carefully fostered — and move away from their fiscally sponsored model into being a fully integrated part of an organization three times their size. This was also a tremendous shift. Both Leading Edge and Boardified leaning into these new identities played a key role in moving the acquisition ahead. While all sides experienced loss, each of our organization’s relative newness onto the scene of North American Jewish life — and our evolving organizational identities — helped us embrace the change and see the process through. There was nothing so entrenched that couldn’t be called into question.

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About the Author
  • Photo of Mordy Walfish

    Mordy Walfish is Chief Operating Officer at Leading Edge.

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