June 19, 2024
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June 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“Are YOU one of tomorrow’s leaders? Do you have what it takes to set the tone for the next generation? Is the latest research about leadership all you need to know to reach your potential?” Shoshana Morgan’s eyes grew wider and wider as she read the questions on the flyer. It was as if someone was reading her mind! “Yes, yes and yes!” she shouted in (what she forgot for a moment was) the library. “Shhhhhh!” replied everyone. With a slightly (okay, very) red face, Shoshana copied down the information and rushed home to apply to join the Young Active Adult Leadership Academy. After reading through the YAALA website, Shoshana was sure that this was the place for her to become the all-time great leader she KNEW she was destined to be. So Shoshana filled out the application, wrote her essay, sent emails requesting letters of recommendation, and waited.

How was Shoshana so sure of herself? Well, leadership was in her blood. The Morgans were born leaders. Her great-grandfather was president of the local shuffleboard club, her grandmother was the mayor of her town (or maybe she was sanitation director—she couldn’t remember), and Shoshana’s mother was the head assistant to the assistant head of Shoshana’s school. Leadership was clearly her only option, so she was not surprised when YAALA invited her to come for an interview.

To prepare for the interview Shoshana brushed up on all her leadership knowledge. She went through three shelves worth of books, from “Aaron Aardvark’s Lesson for Leaders” to “Zombies Can Lead Too!” Shoshana reviewed every highlight, studied every underline, and memorized all the fancy terms. She made a list of 50 words and phrases to use during the interview to send the message “I am a leader!” After two weeks of preparation, the night before the interview arrived. Shoshana went to sleep feeling relaxed and confident. She dreamed of floating words, each one in a different neon highlighter color.

The next day, Shoshana woke to her alarm and went through her normal routine. She walked into the YAALA office exactly 19 minutes before the scheduled interview (“20 minutes early or more makes you seem desperate, 15 or less makes you seem irresponsible”), handed a cup of coffee and a muffin to each secretary (“unexpected acts of breakfast are key to winning people over”) and sat waiting her turn. With five minutes to go, Shoshana started to feel a little nervous and stepped out to use the bathroom. As she returned, Sara Steiner, the director of YAALA, entered the waiting room from the other direction, accompanied by another person holding a notepad, who looked to be around Shoshana’s age. “Good morning, Shoshana, my name is Sara, and this is Yaakov.” Shoshana grasped Sara’s outstretched hand (with a “firm but not aggressive” grip), shook it (“one large pump followed by a smaller one”) and they headed into Sara’s office.

The interview went exactly as Shoshana hoped it would. She sat with her back straight, she maintained eye contact when speaking with Sara and Yaakov, and she managed to use 40 of the words and phrases from her list. Sara asked all of the questions and Yaakov spent most of the time taking notes. Every once in a while he added on to Shoshana’s comments with ideas that impressed her. “I must make sure to become friends with Yaakov once I am accepted,” thought Shoshana, “he really seems to know his stuff.” As the interview wrapped up, Sara asked one last question. “At the start of the interview, I mentioned a problem we had at YAALA that required fixing. I’m wondering, now that we have gotten to know each other a little better, do either of you have any solutions?” Shoshana was stunned for a second. (“Either of you? I thought I was the one being interviewed.”) However, she quickly recovered after remembering that on page 112 of “Interviewing for Success” it says “Expect the unexpected at an interview. If another employee is present and answering questions, this is meant to challenge you.” So, before Yaakov could say anything, Shoshana sat tall and recited her list of possible solutions. When she was done, Sara tilted her head, nodded and said “impressive list, Shoshana. Any thoughts, Yaakov?” Yaakov smiled, looked down at his notepad, and responded. “No suggestions yet. I actually liked all of Shoshana’s. I wrote them down here.”

Shoshana, unable to contain her happiness, cracked a large grin. This display of happiness went against the advice on page 220 that said “During an interview, try to keep your emotions in check. Never smile like you are proud of yourself.” But Shoshana let herself off the hook considering how well she had done. She thanked Yaakov, who then continued. “However, I think it’s a bit early to offer suggestions. I don’t know much about YAALA, and I’d really need to understand the goals and culture of your organization before offering any specific solutions.” Yaakov then held up his paper, which held notes about what he had learned about YAALA so far, and he pointed to a list at the bottom. “Specifically, I’d want these questions answered before offering any advice.” Shoshana was a little embarrassed and extremely shocked. (“Yaakov was also interviewing?!”). These emotions gave way to disappointment when Sara spoke. “Thank you both for your time. Yaakov, welcome. Shoshana, you have a lot of great ideas. Think about what you learned today, and come visit again in a few months.”

The good news is that Shoshana followed Sara’s and Yaakov’s advice to a tee. She learned how important listening to others is for leadership. She realized that human beings all have different ways of thinking, and that working with others requires appreciating their points of view. Most importantly, Shoshana realized that listening wasn’t just for others; when she started listening, she began to grow as a person. When Shoshana listened without thinking about how to respond, she learned from what the other person was saying. This helped her become a more sensitive and capable person. And yes, she was accepted into YAALA for the following semester.

Right before Hashem officially chooses Moshe to lead Bnei Yisrael, we hear about Moshe’s reaction to seeing the burning bush. The pasuk says that Moshe noticed a bush that was burning but not being destroyed by the fire. The Torah then tells us that Moshe thought, “Let me go and check out why that bush is burning and not being destroyed.” Only then does Hashem call out to Moshe. Why is this introduction necessary? Why do we need to hear Moshe’s specific thoughts about the bush. Isn’t it obvious that he wanted to check it out?

The answer is that Moshe turning to check out the burning bush might teach us exactly why Moshe was chosen. Possibly the most important trait of a leader is the ability and desire to understand a situation. Sometimes this means listening to others, and sometimes this means paying attention to an event without reacting right away. This idea is important for every person, not just leaders. When going through life, it’s important to be patient and listen to what is happening around us. When helping others, even just a friend with a small problem, make sure to hear their thoughts and to ask the right questions before offering advice. Finally, never jump to conclusions about other people. Some listening and quiet thought might help see the truth behind someone else’s actions.

By Yair Daar

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