Business Advice from Torah Teachings

Leading and encouraging with honesty

LEADING AND ENCOURAGING WITH HONESTY by Rabbi Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu and Daniel Friedmann

It had been more than a year since the children of Israel had left Egypt. They had received the Torah at Sinai. They were ready to enter the Promised Land. But the people were worried and asked Moses whether they could send spies to bring back information that would help them conquer the land. G-d (grudgingly) approved their wish. Ten spies brought back frightening reports about the Promised Land, causing panic among the people. They rebelled, and as a result, G-d decreed that they would wander in the desert for forty years, with their children entering the Promised Land instead of them.

Finally, after four decades of wandering, Moses informed the nation that they were about to enter, conquer, and settle the land as G-d had promised their forefathers. Just as the spies had reported, Moses also told them that the inhabitants were intimidating giants.We read in Deuteronomy 9 that Moses says, “Today, you are crossing the Jordan to come in to possess nations greater and stronger than you, great cities, fortified up to the heavens. A great and tall people, the children of the ‘Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard said, “Who can stand against the children of ‘Anak?!”. You shall know this day, that it is the Lord your God Who passes over before you as a consuming fire He will destroy them, and He will subdue them before you; and you shall drive them out and destroy them quickly”.

Years earlier, when the spies had gone to assess the land and had come back with a similar report, they scared the entire nation! In Numbers Chapter 13, we read of their report: “The people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant. “The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. We saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” Why, forty years later, was it all right for Moses to recount the difficulties of conquering the land? And why, this time, were they able to enter it?

The first time, Moses had asked the spies just to report the facts, leaving interpretation of the facts open—and panic ensued. The second time, Moses took control of the situation. He defined the challenge: the inhabitants were more powerful—literally giants. Then he explained the solution and provided comfort: “Don’t worry, G-d is with you and will protect you.” He didn’t shy away from describing the difficulties, but at the same time, he explained that the people had what they needed to succeed; he encouraged them.

When dealing with a challenging situation, it isn’t useful to ignore or minimize the issues and potential difficulties. Discounting real problems is not the way to provide reassurance. True comfort and encouragement are only meaningful when given with honesty.

In business, we’re constantly faced with expanding into new markets, new countries, or both. Like the children of Israel, we check the situation out: buy reports, hire experts, visit in person, etc. We then review the information. My experience is that immediately, the prophets of doom and gloom enumerate all the reasons why we could fail. The optimists try to minimize the obstacles and press ahead. But success comes only from really understanding the difficulties, focusing on the organization’s unique strengths for facing these challenges, and developing strategies to overcome them.

Adapted from An MBA from Heaven.

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