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Moving Dreams to Reality

As a 9th grade student in Washington Heights, NY, I had the merit of visiting the home of Rabbi Shimon Schwab of Congregation Khal Adas Jeshurun each week together with my classmates. He would share Torah thoughts that would conclude with some relevant message for his teenage audience.

I enjoyed and grew from each of these special experiences. Yet, there is one message that he shared that I remember particularly well. It is a concept that has resonated for me personally in a variety of ways over the years, and has served to guide me at various junctures of my professional pathway. 

Rabbi Schwab questioned the Torah’s designation of Joseph as a “youth” (Genesis 37:2) at the beginning of this week’s parasha, considering that he was already seventeen at the time. He quoted Rashi, who suggests that the term was a reference to Joseph’s inclination towards personal grooming, but wondered why that made him “youthful” in particular. Furthermore, he expressed curiosity as to how one of the tribes, specifically the one who would become known for all of history as “the Righteous one” because of his ability to resist temptation, could spend so much time engaging in aesthetic pursuits.

To answer these questions, Rabbi Schwab presented a broader context for such “youthful” conduct. Joseph, he said, was a dreamer. He had dreamt of two scenarios, each of which centered on his future role in the family. He shared these visions with his siblings and his father, to mixed results.

So his brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter. (Genesis 37:11) He was waiting and looking forward in expectation of when it (the fulfillment) would come. (Rashi, Ibid)

While the brothers’ response was of collective envy, Yaakov understood Joseph’s dreams for what they were, prophesies of a time in which Rachel’s firstborn would assume the mantle of familial leadership. However, he recognized that the images spoke of a future date and time, and that it would take a while before this prediction would manifest. So he bided his time, eagerly awaiting how Hashem would orchestrate matters towards the desired outcome.

Rabbi Schwab explained that Joseph did not possess that same degree of patience as his father.  He tried to “youthfully” force the issue, by conducting himself as royalty long before he would assume any position of stature (see Maimonides, Laws of Kings and their Wars, chapter 3, who describes a Jewish king’s need for daily hair grooming). For that reason, he was called a youth, a term that reflects a certain immaturity (at least in relative terms). And his impatience got him into trouble with his brothers, who were not quite ready to anoint their junior sibling as their leader and superior.

Patience is a virtue that all of us need in order to succeed in our many personal and professional spheres. Parenting, spousal relationships, friendships and work-related situations all demand patience as we grapple with challenging moments and unfulfilled expectations. We also need to be patient in our desire to lead and manage change, for ourselves and those around us.

Change management is a dynamic, complex process, one that goes well beyond the scope of this essay. There are some core components, however, that can be shared here which promote healthy personal and organizational growth, particularly at the beginning of a new relationship or a shift in roles. These include;

  1. Build equity – The first thing that any leader needs to do is to build equity with those around them. Invest early and often in the relationship, through complimentary notes and similar gestures as a way of developing friendship and trust. Doing so will help ensure that the ones that they hope to influence will see them as a friend and ally who is genuinely invested in their well being.
  2. And personal efficacy – Leaders or soon-to-be leaders need to hone their skills to ensure that they have the tools to guide and inspire. Invest in yourself – through education, peer dialogue and self-reflective practices – as a way of gaining confidence and clarity about what it is that you seek to achieve and how to go about achieving it.
  3. Move slowly – Choose small, low-stakes areas to achieve some early change-related “wins.” This may include small behavioral improvements or the introduction of new, non-core programs. Such contexts will allow you to demonstrate personal capacity while demonstrating that change need not be sizable or overwhelming. 
  4. Yet strategically – once you have gained some traction, identify the areas that really require change and place your focus there. You can’t address everything; too many side efforts that promise moderate benefits may take away from your core focus and leave people unsure about your true intentions. Remember, change is hard enough. Keep uncertainty and second guessing to a minimum.
  5. Remove the guesswork – Let people know what you are thinking. Most people loathe uncertainty and an unclear sense of where they stand. Set objectives, personal and organizational, and use them to drive change-related conversation. Objectives for others, of course, should be set in tandem, so that there is mutual understanding and legitimate buy-in.
  6. Make your agenda their agenda – Where possible, allow others’ feedback and interests drive your decisions. The more that it comes from them, the likelier it is for change to stick. Also, think in terms of superordinate goals, objectives that are mutually valuable and beneficial. Keep in mind that even when the collective benefit appears obvious to you, it may not be readily apparent to others. Frame decisions and actions as ones that will ultimately bring benefit and joy to as many people as possible.

Dreaming is an important quality for anyone who wants to improve upon their present reality and personal relationships. You need to see beyond the moment in order to ever get there. But a leader also needs to approach his dreams patiently, and put the requisite pieces into place so that he can bring others along to envision the future much the way that he does.