Growing Through Difficult Times

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My clients are global, but I live in Israel where we are going through difficult times. I have been moved by so many of you who’ve reached out to check on us and encourage us. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

You have been exposed to harrowing images of horror on your phones, computers, and TV screens. For us here, it has been different. Israel is culturally diverse, made up of individuals from all over the world. We have communities from North and South America, England, France, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China, Philippines, Ethiopia, and other parts of Africa, as well as from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Iran. Of course, we also have our local population of born and bred Israelis and Arabs. Yet, approximately 75% of this diverse nation constitutes a single community that shares a common history and religion. We know each other and care about each other. I know many of the individuals who have been killed, wounded, abducted, or are missing over the last few days. Many of them are either our friends or the children, nephews, or nieces of our friends. The pain is deep and intense. So, for me to write this week’s newsletter with no reference to what we have been subjected to since Saturday would be inauthentic.

On the other hand, this newsletter is not a platform for political or social agendas but rather one to explore ideas that can help leaders of all nationalities, ethnicities, and religions inspire others during challenging and fast-changing times. So, what have I experienced this week that could be relevant to us all? I want to focus on three dimensions of learning: regaining our moral character, focusing on our purpose, and being intolerant of bad behavior.

As leaders, while navigating politics and social agendas carefully, we need the courage to stand up for what is true and right and ferociously challenge that which is evil and wrong.

Moral Character: The world has become lost in moral subjectivity, and with that, it has lost its moral courage. As leaders, while navigating politics and social agendas carefully, we need the courage to stand up for what is true and right and ferociously challenge that which is evil and wrong. Avoiding politics does not mean we should be neutral when the very fabric of civilization has been attacked. As Elie Wiesel said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” What happened in twenty-two towns in the South of Israel on the Sabbath (also the festive holiday of Simchat Torah) was an attack launched by Hamas, an organization that celebrates murder, on a civilization that reveres life. Taking sides on this matter is not about supporting a political viewpoint. It is about defending civilization, and what kind of leaders are we if we will not defend civilization? As leaders of businesses that bear influence in society, we should stand up loudly for what is good and strongly oppose what is bad.

In business too, the reason to exist is to solve problems for customers and make a difference in the world.

External Focus: Israel has not yet faced the question of how such an intelligence failure could have happened, but it will need to face the question soon. Israel has been embroiled in a destructive year of divisiveness around a variety of domestic issues, including a program of judicial reform. The internal focus was absolute. Herein lies the lesson for leaders. Internal focus blinds one to external threats and opportunities. Israeli leadership was preoccupied with political survival, the preservation of personal power, domestic legislation, and religious and anti-religious intolerance. This preoccupation blinded it from seeing the obvious threats to its citizens from across its borders. A government’s primary responsibility is to protect the lives of its citizens and enable their prosperity. It is to this end that leaders should be focused. In business too, the reason to exist is to solve problems for customers and make a difference in the world. Internal matters of culture and EVPs (Employee Value Propositions) are important only insofar as they support that purpose. When a business becomes focused on its internal culture and the well-being of its employees to the exclusion of caring about how customers are served, the blind spots become potentially dangerous and existentially threatening to the company.

Tolerate People, Not Bad Behavior: After we began to come to terms here with what had happened, I expected to see disturbing levels of anger and hate around me and a desire for vengeance. But this was not the case. There definitely is anger and a desire to eradicate barbarism, brutality, and terrorism from the region. But I sense no hate, neither toward individuals nor toward ethnicities, religions, or nationalities. If I were to use a single word to describe the national spirit in Israel as I write this piece, surprisingly it would be love. I feel buoyed by a tide of love everywhere around me. Love for the soul of Israel, love for the people of Israel, love of life, love for the dignity of the Jewish people, and love for humanity. The nation, despite the divisiveness from which it suffered for the last year, is cemented in united support for the Israeli Defense Force as it prepares to eradicate a savage evil. Over 300,000 reservists have been drafted, and there was a 150% response to the draft. Israelis from around the world have returned voluntarily to play their part in what lies ahead. They do so out of love for each other, not out of hatred for an enemy. They do so in celebration of the lives they will die to defend, not out of a desire to inflict harm on others.

Adults and children throughout the country have mobilized their resources to send care packages to the soldiers, each with heartwarming letters of love written by children of all ages to soldiers everywhere. The soldiers are sending inspiring and uplifting video clips to the population expressing their love and promise of protection. People are stepping in to support families who have been dislocated because of the terror, and whose fathers and husbands have been drafted. Care pours out to the bereaved families and those waiting for news about their missing loved ones. The prevailing emotion is not hate or fear. The prevailing emotion is not even anger; it is love.

We should respect all people, but we should not respect or even tolerate all behavior.

There are times when it is appropriate to be angry, but anger should never translate into hate. We should respect all people, but we should not respect or even tolerate all behavior. When behavior crosses the lines of our values, whether as a nation or an organization, we need to call those behaviors out and oppose them strongly. Our love for our employees, customers, and other stakeholders at times requires us to challenge behaviors that undermine who we are at our core. Even when we need to act harshly to challenge that which is wrong, we should check whether the inner place from which we come is one of love and caring or one of fear and hate. Never allow love to paralyze your moral courage to confront evil, but likewise, never allow hate to drive it.

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