The Solomon Leadership Program Leads the Way
Cooper Weisman’s goal is to be the CEO of a start-up. The Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts senior has a vision and a plan of action, but unlike many starry-eyed 17-year-olds with a dream, he expects to encounter a fair number of obstacles on his way to success.
Fifteen years from now, Weisman believes his biography will read, in part, that he “failed 90 times but succeeded 10 times, never letting anyone or himself get in the way of his vision.”
Weisman credits his reality check and unwavering sense of direction to the Solomon Leadership Program, an intense 10-week program at the Palm Beach Synagogue that teaches teens the essential qualities to become effective future leaders. Weisman completed the course in April.
“It’s not a business class,” says Lawrence Sosnow, the Palm Beach philanthropist and healthcare entrepreneur who developed the program. “It’s about how to teach young people to be good leaders. They learn to motivate people and make good decisions.
To that end, he based the program on eight elements, or pillars, of good leadership: character, tolerance, communication, vision, empowerment, perseverance, strategy, and judgment.
“High school students don’t get leadership training in school,” notes Sosnow. “They have no idea what vision is or how to study perseverance, for example.”
Armed with the seed of an idea based on his own experience of being mentored by an uncle, Sosnow approached Moshe Scheiner, founding rabbi of Palm Beach Synagogue, in 2015. Together, the two recruited mentors and speakers from among the vast talent pool in the community. “Palm Beach has leaders with decades of experience,” Scheiner says. “Why not take advantage of their wisdom?”
Working with Solomon’s Executive Director, Sarah Dworcan; educational director, Miriam Taylor; and Art Johnson, professor of leadership and organizational development at Palm Beach Atlantic University, they then developed a curriculum and earned accreditation for three college credits.
The first group of students, called Fellows, graduated in 2016. Other communities took note of the success and since then three more chapters have formed in Florida – in Bal Harbour, Aventura and Parkland – and one in Montreal. By the end of 2023, the organization plans to open around 10 more chapters across the country and has received applications from as far away as South Africa and England.
The program now falls under a parent company called the Solomon Institute, which oversees the chapters. Currently, Sosnow funds all of this through its foundation, but the aim is to be an independent charity so that it can raise outside funds. Eventually, Sosnow would like to become president emeritus and form a board of directors.
The name Solomon comes from the biblical king known for his wisdom and is reflected in the logo, which includes the slogan “Ancient Wisdom.” Modern management.
From the start, Sosnow stipulated that the leadership program be secular, but administered by a faith-based organization of any denomination. He and Scheiner met with other religious organizations interested in forming chapters. The religious aspect is important, he said, because religious organizations have the power and motivation to improve the community and recruit mentors and speakers, as well as the facilities to host the sessions. He wants to see faith play a greater role in shaping society. “Congregations should serve the community, not just the congregants,” he says.
After preparing by completing related tasks, fellows attend sessions with their mentors. Each session begins with a speaker who speaks about that week’s pillar. After a question-and-answer session, mentors work with fellows from a program that illustrates each pillar with stories that “could range from an article in The Wall Street Journal something out of the Bible,” Sosnow says. There are stated goals for students to achieve, as well as regular testing. Fellows are encouraged to think for themselves, with mentors guiding them through a Socratic method, he adds.
Last year, the program had six mentors and nine speakers (one speaker for each pillar, with two speakers sharing one of the pillars) in the Palm Beach chapter. For example, the Honorable Judge Lisa Small of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida served as a mentor, while Timothy S. Sotos, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Palm Beach Atlantic University, spoke on the pillar of communication ..
The class of 2022 graduated 20 scholarship recipients last April. Scholars apply online and, if accepted, do not pay tuition fees. While you don’t have to be an A student, Scheiner says, students must demonstrate leadership and some community involvement to be considered. Weisman, for example, is founder and president of the Dreyfoos Aerospace and Rocket Club and co-chair of the Dreyfoos chapter of Empowering Youth Action, a mentoring program.
“The beauty of this program is that it’s available for those who want it, but they really have to invest in it,” says mentor Sally Ann Nisberg, a local child and family advocate and founder of the organization at breast cancer advocacy nonprofit LiveLikeCrazy. She has been a mentor since the program’s inception and has worked with more than two dozen students, most of whom she maintains a relationship with.
“These fellows are already on their way to becoming leaders when they enter the program,” Nisberg says. “They are so thirsty for knowledge. When each of them graduates, the energy level is incredible.
Nisberg also discovered an unexpected benefit of the program in the relationships she established with other mentors and speakers. “I have had the pleasure of making friends with people I would never have met and it has enriched my life. I am in awe of the other mentors and speakers; we have people in health care, law, finance and business. There is just something magical about this program.
Weisman says one of the biggest lessons to take from his mentor, Michael Greenwald, who is global head of digital assets at Amazon Web Services, was to persist in achieving his vision no matter what obstacles he might encounter. along the way. “If I could sum it up in one sentence, it’s ‘don’t limit yourself’,” he adds. “Mr. Greenwald used to say this every session. He also encouraged us to wake up an hour earlier each day. I use that extra hour to organize my mind for the day.
President Paul Leone, President of The Breakers Palm Beach, chose perseverance as the topic because he says it resonated the most with his own path to success. “After graduating from the University of Kentucky with an accounting degree, I got a job at Coopers & Lybrand, one of the Big 8 accounting firms. I was one of 10 new recruits to the college; the nine others were A-level students, and I had a B average in my major and my overall GPA was 2.6 They were far ahead of me, and I had to work twice to keep up and be recognized.
Ultimately, Leone thinks, his parents’ divorce when he was 12 and the difficulties he had moving from New York to Kentucky while in high school taught him more than he could have. to imagine. “Adversity is a good thing, and young people shouldn’t shy away from it,” he says. “That’s how we grow up. I wanted to give up many times, but one of the things that really drove me on was the thought of failing at something that was important to me. I made a vow to never give up.
Like everyone involved in the program, Leone is excited about the results and thinks it could be used in wider applications, in the corporate world, for example. “When I first saw the program, I thought it was the best training program I had ever seen and would be great for my own management team,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of shows, but this one really stuck with me.”
Scheiner says one of the keys to the program’s success is that it connects generations of future and current leaders. “Watching our teens leave the programs and their level of leadership skills grow after completing the program is so rewarding,” he says. “I think everyone is inspired by their enthusiasm and respect. We see how bright the future really is.
Mentors for the 2021-22 school year
Michael Greenwald, Global Head, Digital Assets at Amazon Web Services
Dr. Robert Jacobson, founding medical director of Good Samaritan Medical Center and professor of medicine at Florida Atlantic University
Sally Ann Nisberg, child and family advocate in Palm Beach County and founder of the nonprofit breast cancer advocacy organization LiveLikeCrazy
Betsy R. Sheerr, education and communication coach and advocate and activist for humanitarian, community and political organizations
Ronnie Simpson, Certified Retirement Planning Advisor, Senior Vice President and Senior Portfolio Manager at Morgan Stanley
Honorable Justice Lisa Small, judge of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida