• October 2013

What Queen Esther Knew: Business Strategies From a Biblical Sage

Review by Hope Katz Gibbs
Publisher, Be Inkandescent

Mosaics of Queen Esther (right) and Ether and Mordecai (below) by Lilian Broca

“Marching in place no longer cuts it. You gotta shake things up a bit and make a few new waves. Like Queen Esther, you must be willing to take a leap of faith. Only then can you discover your true destiny.”

Those words have stuck with me since reading Connie Glaser and Barbara Smalley’s 2004 book, “What Queen Esther Knew: Business Strategies from a Biblical Sage.”

It has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. And unlike other magazines that only review the latest books, we are big believers in promoting books that stand the test of time.

“What Queen Esther Knew” tops that list.

“Smart, savvy, and strategic, Queen Esther provides an impressive role model for women today,” explain the authors, who turned the ancient story of an orphan girl—who became the Queen of Persia and saved her people—into a business book that contains the ingredients women need to succeed today.

With interviews with dozens of the top business strategists of the last few decades—ranging from former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina to lesser-known but equally business-savvy leaders such as Ellen Snee and Jan Shubert of Fine Line Consulting in Newton, MA—Glaser and Smalley offer such a depth of insight that this book was destined to become a classic.

Before we offer insights from Esther’s playbook and become strategists, risk-takers, and persuasive speakers—let’s ramp up on the story of Esther.

According to Glaser and Smalley: Around 400 BCE in Persia, in the third year of his reign, King Ahasuerus hosted a feast. On the seventh day of festivities, the king summoned his queen, Vashti, to appear before him and demonstrate her beauty for all of his officials. When Vashti refused, the king was outraged. He banished her from the kingdom and launched a four-year search for her replacement.

The most beautiful maidens of the Persian Empire were brought to the palace for the king’s consideration. One of these was Esther, a Jewish orphan who had been raised by her older cousin, Mordecai, after her parents died. Esther impressed all who met her, including King Ahasuerus, who chose her to be his queen.

Mordecai convinced Esther not to reveal her identity as one of the Jewish minority who had lived in Persia since the Exile. The two remained close even after she was crowned. In fact, Mordecai often came by the palace to ask after his cousin.

One day, while sitting near the palace gate, Mordecai overheard a plot to assassinate the king. He immediately told Esther, who reported it to the king in Mordecai’s name.

Soon after that, the king promoted Haman to the position of chief advisor. A descendant of Amelak, the traditional enemy of the Jews, Haman was wicked and vain. Mordecai, a pious Jew, refused to bow down to Haman, which infuriated him. Not content to punish just Mordecai, Haman decided to destroy the entire Jewish population in Persia. He chose the dates for his holocaust by casting lots—called purim.

Through deception, Haman persuaded King Ahasuerus to go along with his plans to kill the Jews. And with the king’s permission, Haman issued an edict proclaiming the 13th and 14th days of the Hebrew month of Adar as the dates all Persian Jews would be slain. When Mordecai heard of this plan, he persuaded Esther to intercede on behalf of her people, although to approach her husband unbidden—and to identify herself as a Jew—could mean her death.

Esther summoned her courage and entered the king’s inner court. The king granted her an audience and promised her virtually anything she asked. Esther replied that she wished to invite the king and Haman to a banquet that day. At the feast, she asked her guests to return for another banquet the following day.

Haman left the first banquet consumed with self-importance and pride. But these feelings quickly turned to rage when he saw Mordecai sitting at the palace gate, and he again refused to bow down to Haman. After fretting at home about Mordecai’s impudence, Haman took the advice of his wife, Zeresh, and ordered construction of a gallows for the hanging of Mordecai.

The following day—at Esther’s second banquet—she revealed Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews, along with the fact that she herself was Jewish. “Grant me life and spare my people,” she begged the king.

Outraged that his beloved queen had been threatened, the king ordered that Haman be hanged in the very gallows intended for Mordecai. And although Persian law prevented the king from reversing his previous edict, he allowed Mordecai to issue a new edict permitting the Jews to defend themselves.

On the 13th and 14th days of Adar, the Jews were victorious against their enemies and saved from annihilation. Jews have observed Purim at this time ever since, a holiday filled with merrymaking, feasting, and the re-telling of Esther’s story of courage and faith.

So what can we learn from Queen Esther?

Here’s a taste of the first three chapters of the book.

Chapter 1: Make a Royal First Impression.

“If you are viewed positively within the first four minutes of meeting someone, the person you’ve met will likely assume that everything you do is positive,” Glaser and Smalley insist. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. The good news is that by deliberately cultivating a positive first impression, you can take advantage of the “halo effect” philosophy. Here’s how:

  • Learn “palace” protocol.
  • Dress to take over the throne.
  • Carry yourself like queen.
  • Make a grand entrance.
  • Establish a royal presence.
  • Embrace the “Credibility Quotient:” Match your communication style to that of your interviewer. Focus on showing that you can do the job.

Chapter 2: Find a Mentor to Open Your Eyes and Doors

  • Realize that some things never change: Throughout history, many famous women have credited their success, at least in part, to their fathers and other male family members—including Elizabeth Dole, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Anna Freud.
  • Then again, realize that so much has changed: While there will always be fathers and father-figures who guide us, achieving success today requires tossing the old and embracing the new.
  • Your role as a mentee: Successful relationships are always reciprocal. That means you must assume certain responsibilities to make the relationship work.

Chapter 3: It Pays to Know the Palace Gossip

  • Tap into the office grapevine.
  • Engineer positive gossip about yourself: Sing others’ praises. Learn to gossip like a man. Enlist the help of a colleague.
  • Know when to quip—and when to zip your lip.
  • Use the “zebra rule” to your advantage: When you align yourself with others “in the loop,” they can provide stability and the upper hand to help you find your place in the palace hierarchy.

For more information about the book, click here.

About Connie Glaser: Glaser has served as chair of the Travel Advisory Council for Inter-Continental Hotels, and she serves on the Women’s Advisory Board for Office Depot and the Advisory Board for Emory University Graduate Women in Business. Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and are considered influential on workplace diversity and women’s leadership. Glaser has appeared on “Today,” FOX News, CNN, and “The NBC Nightly News.” She has a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. Learn more about Glaser at www.connieglaser.com.

About Barbara Smalley: A freelance writer for Redbook, Women’s World, and Reader’s Digest, Smalley is the recipient of the ATHENA Award, an international honor that recognizes women who selflessly help other women achieve their goals. She’s the co-author of “Swim With the Dolphins: How women can succeed in corporate America on their own terms,” and “When Money Isn’t Enough: How women are finding the soul of success,” among other books. Learn more here.

About Artist Lilian Broca: Throughout my career, I have explored relationships and the nature of the human condition through symbols and metaphors. The Queen Esther Series deals with sacrifice, and I chose the biblical Queen Esther as a prototype for the courageous, selfless heroine who wins against all odds. The bright, seductive colors of Venetian glass and smalti I used in creating mosaics many years ago suddenly beckoned me. The coincidental fact that mosaics were first mentioned in the biblical Book of Esther (within the description of King Ahasuerus’ palace) contributed to my decision to further explore this unique art form. Executing the Esther Series in an ancient method with added contemporary symbolism seems most appropriate. Learn more about Broca at www.LilianBroca.com.

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