Oct. 16th is Boss’ Day, This post is in honor of the good Bosses I have had:
As I slouched in my easy chair last night, watching Spiderman II with my son, it occurred to me that Peter Parker’s boss, J. Jonah Jameson, the publisher of the Daily Bugle is what I always imagined a boss to be when I was growing up: a gruff, cigar chomping, get the job done without caring whose feelings were hurt, type of guy. On TV and in the Movies, managers lived by the rule “real bosses don’t ask for opinions.” Although I have to admit when Jamison did evolve a bit when moved to LA to become Assistant Police Chief Will Pope in the series The Closer, he also became nicer boss.
All of the TV shows I grew up with featured bosses just like Jameson, who were feared as much as respected. The narcissistic Alan Brady of the Dick Van Dyke Show, Larry Tate on Bewitched or the unscrupulous money hungry banker, Mr. Drysdale from the Beverly Hillbillies, was what I thought a boss would be when I started working. Even Lou Grant fit into the category, he’s the man who once said, “that’s cute…I hate cute!”
A few years ago, Fox tried to push that boss image even further with My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss. In this show, graduates from major business schools competed for a $250,000 salary and the “honor” to work for a mean, despicable, SOB of a boss. The twist was there wasn’t a real job involved and the “boss” was just a very good actor. Each week contestants were abused and humiliated for our amusement. They competed with each other so that the next week the archetype mean boss can abuse them further.
Though I have been out of work for over two years, for some reason, sitting in my chair watching Spiderman swing across buildings, I began thinking about bosses. It was nice to realize that the prototypical boss, imagined as a child (and displayed in Fox’s fake reality show) is a not what I adopted as a style once I had become a boss. My management style was not like any of those grumpy stereotypes, not because it seems that TV bosses got nicer (all three CSI bosses for example, are scrupulous and nice people), nor was it because of any formal training, as a manager I was always thrown into fire and told to do my best. I received management training as a kid, on the days when I couldn’t watch as much TV. It was a program my parents enrolled me in, one they schlepped me to each Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday.
You see all of my management training was from an unusual source. In fact, all I really needed to know about being a manager (and an employee), I learned in Hebrew School. Management wisdom was not found on the seven TV channel available when I was growing up, nor in an executive self-help book. It was all right there in Mr. Gefter’s Torah class. It’s still there for all the people to look. These are the things I learned from my teachers in Hebrew school:
- ·Who you work with is more important that what you are making. Lot traded being close to his uncle Abraham for the fame and fortune of a judgeship in Sodom … eventually that turned out to be a dead end job.
- Do not tolerate office gossip. Despite all of her good deeds during the exodus from Egypt, Miriam got in trouble for criticizing her boss (Brother Moses) behind his back.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. The section of the Torah where the Ten Commandments are given is not named after the great revelation at Sinai; it’s named after Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro. The reason Yitro is given the honor, because that is the section where Yitro taught his son-in-law that if he doesn’t delegate and find time for family, he would burn out. (By the way, you should also know that the Torah uses seven different names for Moses’ father-in-law; Reuel, Jether, Yitro, Hobab, Heber, Keni and Putiel. This is important because If you ever see this guy with seven aliases, I would not recommend taking a check from him)
- Balance makes for better workers. The Torah tells us that employers and employees alike should take off one day a week, the Sabbath. This day’s purpose is to lose touch with the work world, and those work pressures and worries in order to find balance in your life by getting in touch with your kids, family, and friends.
- It’s OK for a boss not to know the right answer. When the daughters of Zelophe asked Moses a real stumper about real estate and inheritance law, he didn’t try to fake his way through it. Moses said I don’t know let me check with top management (God).
- Stand up for what is right even if it is not popular. After the Golden Calf, Moses said whoever is with God come with me, the Levites answered the call, and they got a big promotion out of it.
- When a manager loses control of his people, then maybe it’s time for him to move on. Sure he hit the rock, but by the time God told Moses his mission was done, the Jewish slaves that he started with were dead. Their children had become a new nation, raised in the wilderness not under an Egyptian’s whip. Moses had a hard time relating to this group, calling them rebels. While the people loved their leader, God know they needed fresh blood. But God’s love for Moses was so strong, he told Moses he was fired for the “sin” of hitting the rock a tiny infraction– because he didn’t want to hurt Mo’s feelings by saying that had lost touch with the people.
- Protect your people at all costs, even if it means arguing with God. We remember Abraham for arguing with God, trying to protect Sodom and Gomorrah, “even if there are only 10 good people.” Abraham gave birth to nations. The only humans Noah tried to save were his own family and quite possibly because of that, all nations were destroyed during his watch (and that’s on top of blocking his neighbor’s driveway with a big boat).
· Probably the most powerful management lesson I learned in Hebrew School was about decisiveness. Three thousand years ago, Moses and twelve tribes of freed slaves stood on the shore of the Reed Sea bracing for an attack by the army of their former masters. As they began to pray, God said to Moses, enough praying, do something! Moses took action, leading the twelve tribes across the sea as one nation, proving that a decisive leader who trusts in God and works with a unified team can work miracles.
It’s been more than 40 years since I went to Hebrew school. I now have more than five channels and no longer have to sit two inches from the TV so I can change channels at will. It’s been even longer since biblical times, but it still stands that God is one great manager of people and that the Bible makes one heck of an HR manual, and the best part of it all, unlike Hollywood you don’t have to pay residuals.