Leadership Limmud: Sukkot and Welcoming

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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!

Sukkot Summary: The festival of Sukkot begins shortly after Yom Kippur ends. The holiday is celebrated for seven or eight days depending on geographic location or denomination. It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals (Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot) where traditionally, Jews would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate. The holiday focuses on the Sukkah (booth or hut) which is said to represent the structures that the Israelites built, ate and lived in during the 40 years of exile after they left Egypt.

Many of Sukkot's rituals focus on actions one can take at home. Many people build a Sukkah at their house as it is a mitzvah to sit and eat there everyday during the holiday. The requirements for a Sukkah are that it needs 3 walls, the roof has to be made of leaves or branches (material from the Earth) and these should be placed in a way that one can still see the sky and stars. In addition to this, many people conduct a ritual where they shake a lulav (branches and leaves of the palm, myrtle and willow) and etrog (citron).

Commentary: The Zohar, the guiding book of Jewish Kabbalah (mysticism), teaches that on Sukkot we are supposed to practice the tradition of Ushpizin. Ushpizin is the act of inviting the seven male leaders of Judaism into our Sukkah. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David are to each have their own night of Sukkot singled out as an honored guest. Many families today also choose to invite seven females leaders as well: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah and Esther.

This practice reflects the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, the welcoming of guests, a reminder of Abraham's hospitality welcoming travelers into his tent. As we invite these biblical, spiritual guests, we are offered an opportunity to invite our own guests into our Sukkah. Hachnasat orchim applies to both our friends and strangers, and grants us the opportunity to invite those who inspire us to be our best selves or those in need to enjoy our hospitality.

Let's get down to Tachlis (nuts and bolts): Sukkot celebrates the harvest by focusing on the Sukkah, a booth or hut that the Israelites built, ate and lived in during their 40 years wandering in the desert. Many customs focus on creating community by inviting guests into our Sukkah to join us in the festivities.

What this means for leaders: Research shows that employees find their jobs more fulfilling and meaningful when they have positive relationships with the people they work with. Investing in positive workplace relationships doesn't just have to be socializing, it can also be getting to know someone and their motivation to join the company.

Positive workplace relationships require many traits, but good interpersonal skills can often serve as the difference maker. Connecting people together requires negotiating interpersonal problems by recognizing others' perspectives and desires, without alienating anyone in the process. Individuals with the strongest interpersonal skills will connect with many different stakeholders. Positive workplace relationships flourish when all partners feel respected, connected and supported by their co-workers.

Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, Brynn Harrington and Adam Grant write in the Harvard Business Review that employees are surprisingly clear on what they want from their job, and that is: career, community and cause. According to research, this holds up across all age groups, geographic locations and job type. The authors sum it up by saying that “We’re all hoping to find a what, a who, and a why”. Managers and organizational leaders need to take this research to heart while thinking about how they are running their teams and organizations in relation to keeping their talent long-term. The community aspect of the job consistently is the first or second most important to employees as they want to feel that they are a part of something and that they feel valued and respected. The lessons of Sukkot of bringing the community in are directly relevant to how organizations can be run with a similar focus on community and belonging.