What is the message that you wish to impart to your family at the Seder on Pesach? I did not know the answer to this important question when Rabbi Antine posed it to over 500 people at the annual Guys Night Out and Seder Summit event at Beth Sholom in Potomac, Maryland, but it at least got me thinking. I will be in New York with my parents and family and so will not be leading the Seder, but I don’t believe that absolves me from this responsibility. I think the question applies to anyone in a leadership position. Do you lead a family? A company? A team of employees? A sports team? A volunteer chesed or social action project? A committee? If so, what is the message that you would like to impart to those you lead?
During our daily routine, we don’t have much time to think, to contemplate our goals, our intentions, our messages. We certainly don’t have time for these things before Pesach when we are focused on all sorts of preparations, including cleaning, shopping, cooking, or, in some cases, preparing our newspaper’s Pesach issue.
I had the unique opportunity to visit practically every major supermarket in the Greater Washington and Baltimore areas before Pesach, trying to convince them (to my surprise, many times successfully) how it was worth their while to have our paper in their store. During these visits, I saw Jews from all walks of life doing the same thing: flooding into the stores to do last-minute shopping for Pesach. Observant, non-observant, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Spanish, Russian, young, old; they were all showing up to perform their due diligence to prepare for the holiday. I wonder what message they will be imparting to those they lead…
As the second-oldest of ten siblings and a newspaper publisher, and as someone who studied industrial/organizational psychology in graduate school and spent a few years working as a consultant studying teams and their leaders, I have both studied and experienced the impact that a leader’s mission, goals, and actions have on others. Whether you like it or not, you set the tone for others and you have the ability to lift or drag others down. You can demonstrate positivity, and others will follow your lead and match your upbeat energy, or you can let the challenges you face show, and others will walk on eggshells around you and match your low energy. As a leader, you have an enormous responsibly. As a leader, you have a wonderful opportunity. You can impact others and make a difference in their lives.
We may feel pressured, stressed, challenged by what life throws our way, but we also have the freedom to choose how we react. We have the freedom to positively impact those we are around most, to keep them in good spirits.
As I reflect going into Pesach, the message that I wish to impart to those I “lead” and to those who lead others is the message of freedom. As we celebrate the freedom from being slaves in Egypt so very long ago, I wish to celebrate the freedom we have to impact others. Starting a newspaper in the “dying print age” is not easy. Handling the constant demands that go into maintaining a newspaper is even harder. Developing and implementing a strategy that ensures the newspaper will be sustainable is probably the hardest of the three. No matter the stage we are at, I know that people look to me to set the example. I know firsthand that my mood impacts others and that if I let my concerns show, if I let my frustrations affect my tone of voice, if I let my anxieties control how I run a meeting, a conversation, or how I give over instructions, it will affect others. Not only is that unfair to them, as it can put them in a worse mood, but I’ve also missed an opportunity to uplift them. To use humor to make them feel good, to use praise, compliments, and light-heartedness to increase their positive attitude.
One example I can use is from a few hours ago. As we were reviewing the newspaper draft, I became increasingly nervous that we had a lot left to do and we were going to have to stay up late to finish it or even miss the print deadline. If I vented to those around me, perhaps it would have helped release some steam, but it also would have made everyone anxious. I knew that the work would get done when it got done, and that nothing I said would make it happen any faster. So, what did I do? I began furiously playing air guitar to the song that was currently playing on Pandora (I think it was a Chili Peppers song). Everyone in the room thought I was a bit (or more than a bit) nuts. But instead of a tension-filled room, the atmosphere became relaxed and people felt comfortable to do their job properly without the added stress hanging over them that their “leader” is upset. The exercise helped relax me as well, and things thankfully moved smoothly from there.
I use this example not to showcase my tremendous ability to shift moods whenever I want to (believe me I do not have this power), but to impress upon myself and others that we do have the freedom to do so at certain times, and exercising this freedom can be extremely impactful for ourselves and others. We may feel pressured, stressed, challenged by what life throws our way, but we also have the freedom to choose how we react. We have the freedom to positively impact those we are around most, to keep them in good spirits. As we enter Pesach and celebrate our freedom, surrounded by family and friends who value and look up to us, let’s exercise our freedom to choose how to react, to choose to positively impact others.
I wish everyone a great Pesach, and I hope we all have a chance to formulate and give over our unique message to others.
Incorporating national figures like Nikki Haley and Jesse Eisenberg adds to the gravitas of Kol HaBirah, as does your coverage of AIPAC. I was particularly pleased to see coverage of the diversity and inclusion forum. The publication is displaying the potential for becoming a fixture in the “local” Jewish community. I’m impressed!
A zisn Pesach,