Leadership Limmud: Eikev and Coaching

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Leadership Limmud is a bi-weekly blog post by the Schusterman Family Foundation Leadership and Talent team. It blends traditional Torah commentary with contemporary leadership lessons linked to that week's Torah parsha or upcoming holiday. We hope you enjoy!

Torah Portion Summary: This week's Torah Portion is Eikev, from the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). In this portion, Moses continues his farewell address to the Jewish people and reminds them of the sins of the generation that started wandering the desert forty years prior. He tells them of the land of milk and honey that they will enter into and warns them against keeping the idols of their former masters. Lastly, Moses asks them to listen, and his words about fulfilling the commandments becomes the second verse of the Shema.

Moses is the main (and sometimes only) person who is heard from in the book of Devarim. As we can see from this portion, sometimes we miss that one of the greatest lessons he delivers in his farewell is that the Jewish people need to listen. Moses was chosen by G-d to lead the Jewish people, yet he was, by his own reckoning, “not a man of words...slow of speech and tongue” (Ex. 4:10). G-d teaches us that listening allows us to understand the emotions and intent behind words. The act of listening demonstrates a level of respect and represents according to Rabbi Sacks, “a profound affirmation of the humanity of the other”. 

Torah Commentary: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that to lead is to listen. While traditional rabbinic Judaism emphasizes the need to teach, to direct and to specifically tell people what to do, Rabbi Sacks articulates that we cannot do any of those actions if we lack the ability to listen. This is the lesson that Moses reiterates throughout Devarim: if we want people to listen to us; we must be prepared to listen to them.

This idea of listening reflects principles of the Schusterman Fellowship's leadership philosophy. We seek to challenge leaders to look internally and recognize their areas of improvement. We ask Fellows to acknowledge their areas of improvement internally, write them down in the form of goals, discuss them with their coaches and actively work over the course of a year to turn them into strengths.

Additionally, this model of leadership reflects an important and necessary component of the Foundation-wide evaluation process. It is easy to applaud and praise ourselves for the 80% who enjoyed a program. It takes a genuine desire to constantly improve to focus on the 20% who saw room for growth. We should take their criticisms and recommendations to heart, and make course corrections in our programming and systems. Most importantly, we should strive to implement this rigorous personal evaluation throughout every program in the Foundation. 

Let's get down to Tachlis (nuts and bolts): By fully listening to individual network members, we demonstrate to even our largest grantees that every partner is important to our community. We should ensure that we extend this level of listening to our professional relationships as well.
 

What this means for leaders: The Center for Creative Leadership contends that active listening can turn a typical conversation into a coaching opportunity. Coaching does not always need to be formal; coaching conversations and moments are impactful ways to make improvements in a high-paced, busy environment. This brings us to 7 active listening skills that can turn a normal conversation into a coaching opportunity:

1. Be attentive

2. Ask open-ended questions

3. Ask probing questions

4. Request clarification

5. Paraphrase

6. Be attuned to and reflect feelings

7. Summarize


More than provide a better working experience, active listening allows us to discover problems before they manifest, solutions we never thought of and what our peers are experiencing. Active listening is as much for the “coachee” as it is for the “coach”.


An article in the Harvard Business Review presents evidence that cellphones and other technology are taking our attention away even when we do not realize it. Previous studies show that human beings are bad at multitasking and this includes trying to listen to someone while looking at your phone. Their research showed that even having a phone in sight causes someone to become distracted in a conversation. The article goes on to contend that in order for us to regain our ability to engage in fruitful conversation with active listening, we need to create new social norms. They suggest accomplishing this by showing the evidence that having a cell phone in front of you can cause distractions, address the issue on a personal level and by holding yourself and others accountable. We live in a time where people believe they can use their phones and actively listen to another person, but this is simply not true. It may be up to us to create new norms that allow for better listening.