Joseph J. Sherman
Thought leader in digital marketing.

Leadership Talk with Rabbi Avraham Shira

Executives and entrepreneurs are under tremendous pressure to succeed. They often have high levels of stress. (Photo by Lorenzo Cafaro)

Managing stress is a major challenge for leaders.  To understand how to tackle this issue, I turned to Rabbi Avraham Shira.  Rabbi Shira is a teacher, writer, and practicing therapist in Jerusalem.   

How can leaders get clarity and relaxation?

Firstly, all people have levels of stress to deal with, and the pressure to succeed is an individual choice.  Part of our stress is how we deal with our choices. If I choose to pursue a career that is highly stressful, I must have a personality that can deal with stress, or be willing to shape my personality to deal with my choices.

In other words, the first way we deal with stress and pressure is by developing the quality of flexibility in decision making.  This flexibility includes such traits as the proper delegation of tasks and responsibilities, time management and effective communications strategies, (ie; how to talk to people, whether they are clients, subordinates or powerful authorities in a relationship).

Flexibility is enhanced by broadening one’s understanding of the problems causing stress.  This includes examining the prime motivators for achieving success, where are they rooted in my personality, are they realistic and what is my track record in achieving goals in the past? What blockages have I found in reaching my goals?  Which ones have I removed? Which still remains?  

Rabbi Avraham Shira (Photo by Elisheva Shira)

Executives and entrepreneurs are under tremendous pressure to succeed. They often have high levels of stress. How can they get clarity and relaxation?

Sharing problems with appropriate people reduce stress and helps focus on positive strategies and not dwelling on past failures.  Rather we must learn that our past failures contain the seeds of future successes. 

Other important stress-reducing activities include regular vigorous exercising, yoga and deep breathing, even menial chores help divert the mind from its present state of stress and help reset one’s focus, calm, and confidence.

To achieve our highest successes we must also acknowledge a connection to something within us that is deeper, more profound and not readily accessed without effort.  This includes mental vigilance against negativity, shirking responsibility and slack professionalism. 

Every stress has a self-defining moment.  It is our choice that ‘something is stressful’.  This choice, whether conscious or not, can always be changed.   Even choices deeply embedded in our characters can be removed, reprogrammed, with desire, diligence, and discipline.  The rewards of these three ‘D’s are a lifetime of successes in all fields of endeavor.

Can you elaborate more on the idea that every stress has a self-defining moment?  It is our choice that something is stressful?

Let’s remember; calling stress an objective phenomenon is based on external chosen parameters.  It is true that most people would consider a 70-hour workweek under a despotic boss stressful. But we cannot arrive at truth by what most people define as their experience.  Stress is a self-defining moment because when the stress arrives, we get to choose how to react to it. Just because 90% of the people would react stressed if they got fired, I do not want to belong to that 90%.  I have that choice. I define the moment as to how I receive the stressor.

Have you seen films of generals at war, with thousands of soldiers they love dismissed to die with one decision? Is that not stressful? Of course, it is, but if you are a general you cannot allow the stress to enter your thinking or feeling, just as you would not allow a thief into your living room. 

It is a choice. If a person does not have the neuro-software to handle a 70 hr. week, or a despotic boss without stress, he should consider another line of work or position, not because of the subjective definitions of people, but because of his own self-knowledge, honesty and self-assessment. 

When I use the phrase, discovering the Creator in the decision-making process, whether it’s a business decision or a personal one, I am talking about the conscious awareness that there is a ‘best choice’ for the answer to every question.  In every business decision, a complex matrix of pieces of information must be considered before making a choice of what to do.

Buy or sell, invest or not, fire or hire, wait or plow ahead. It is the very nature of questions in all areas of life that they can be boiled down to two options.  We discover the Creator in the process of simplifying the matrix of answers down to two. I discuss this process at length in my book Personal Prophecy; Redefining the Future.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, a true sage in our generation, wrote in ‘The Handbook of Jewish Thought’, that when a businessman makes the ‘right decision’, it is an aspect of Divine Inspiration.  Why? Because we believe God is straight with us, that there is always an objectively ‘best choice’ and if you make it, you will be helped. Now whether you call that help ‘from heaven’ or ‘your own intellect’, is your choice.  It is a matter of faith or needing to take credit for your successes.

Whether you believe in God or not, success in any endeavor is a measure of inspiration.  Because of the competitive nature of the business, there is a strong urge to take credit for our successes.  In the religious sphere, where competition is considered coarse and offensive, it is considered virtuous to attribute our successes to the Creator.  This should show us how far free choice extends into our decision-making process. And where there is free choice, there is the potential for the Creative Intelligence of the Universe to make us a little more intelligent as well. 

The floor of the New York Stock Exchange (Photo by Jean Beaufort)

Spirituality and Jewish meditation might sound great for religious people seeking a religious experience. What does it have to do with a modern world?

This question presupposes that ‘religious’ people cannot be ‘modern’ and that ‘modern people’ are not spiritual or ‘religious’.  All of these notions are subjective and fluid in their applications to our lives. There are plenty of people who are modern in certain areas and old fashioned in others.

I would like to reframe the question as can ancient Jewish spiritual practices be useful tools in the modern world?  My answer is absolutely yes. The idea of having ‘a religious experience’ is too broad to be useful as a practical application.  The question is, what spiritual tools can I use to attain true knowledge for any given moment in life?

What Jewish practices will help me accomplish everyday goals, like picking the next billion-dollar app?

I deal exclusively with this question in my short book entitled, The Manual of Personal Prophecy.  In it, we learn to frame everyday questions in ways that, when asked in a ‘proper spiritual posture’, yield answers that help us achieve our goals.  Clear thinking, confident decision making, assertive yet un-offensive behaviors, faith in positivity, rejection of negativity, profound inner listening, adjusting personal agendas, releasing resentments and acknowledging and feeling remorse for errors are just some of the tools of this practice. 

The Manual of Personal Prophecy is based on an ancient Jewish understanding of time, providence and proactive questioning.

I define ‘seeking a religious experience’ as finding out what I need to know in every situation, in order to do the next right thing, at any given moment. The effectiveness of this practice, refined over two decades, is the true ‘having a religious experience,’ ie; discovering the Creator in my decision-making process.

In this way, we can be modern Jews with a metaphysical foundation built over centuries of trial & error and emulating enduring role models that still serve us today, in the modern world.’

About the Author
Sherman holds an MBA from The Kedge Business School, a Grande Ecole de Commerce et de management in France, which included time as an executive MBA exchange scholar at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.
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