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On the last night of the cruise to Alaska my wife and I enjoyed last week, we stayed in and watched the movie Spiderman that was playing on my cabin TV. Watching the movie it occurred to me that Spiderman’s boss, J. Jonah Jameson, the publisher of the Daily Bugle is a perfect example of what I always imagined a manager to be when I was growing up: a gruff, cigar chomping, get the job done without caring whose feelings were hurt, type of guy.

All of the TV shows I watched growing up featured bosses just like Jameson.

You remember the type, characters like Alan Brady of the Dick Van Dyke Show or Larry Tate on Bewitched. Watching the movie and thinking about bosses (while fighting a growing stiffness in my neck from tilting my head to see the tiny TV set), it was nice to realize that the prototypical boss, imagined as a child (and displayed in Spiderman), is not the style I had adopted once I had the opportunity to become a manager.

Thankfully I didn’t develop into to one of those grumpy stereotypes, not because of any formal training as a manager, my bosses always threw me into fire and the only advice given was to do my very best.

Perhaps it was the management-training program my parents schlepped me to it 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 in some human resources manual or executive self-help book –it was all right there in Mr. Gefter’s Torah class. And 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 in Egypt and during the exodus, Miriam got in trouble (leprosy) for criticizing her boss (brother Moses) behind his back.
  • Balance makes for better workers. The Torah tells us that employers and employees alike should take off one day a week, Shabbat. The purpose of this day is to lose touch with the pressures and worries of work world, to find balance in your life by getting in touch with your kids, family, friends and of course your maker.
  • Don’t take credit for everything. Moses was a great leader and very humble man.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate. The section of the Torah with the Ten Commandments is not named after the great revelation at Sinai, where God spoke to the entire Jewish people; it’s named after Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro. Why? Yitro taught his son-in-law that if he doesn’t delegate and spend more time with his family, he would burn out.
  • It’s ok for a boss not to know the right answer. When the daughters of Zelophe had asked Moses a real stumper about real estate and inheritance law, he didn’t try to fake his way through it, he just said I don’t know let me check with top management.
  • 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, those Levites answered the call, and they got a big promotion out of it.
  • When a manager loses control of his people, then maybe its time for him to move on. Sure he hit the rock, but by the time God told Moses his mission was donethe 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 and getting angry. While the people loved their leader God know they needed fresh blood. God’s love was so strong that he told Moses that he was fired for the “sin” of hitting the rock — because he didn’t want to hurt his feelings by saying that had lost touch with the people.
  • Protect your people at all costs. We remember Abraham for trying to protect Sodom and Gomorrah, “even if there are only 10 good people.” He 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.
  • Protect yourself also. Jacob though he had an ironclad contract with Laban — he ended up with the wrong wife. David’s success made his boss Saul feel threatened. He ended up out of work (and almost dead). Most bosses are not like that, but you never know which ones are. Make sure to protect yourself and speak up, respectfully, when you feel that a boss is being hurtful.

Probably the most powerful management lessons I learned in Hebrew School were about decisiveness and teamwork. Three thousand years ago, Moses and twelve tribes of freed slaves stood on the shore of the Red 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 and a unified team can work miracles.

It has been more than 40 years since I went to Hebrew school, and a lot longer since the time of Abraham and Moses, but it still stands that God is one great manager of people and that the Torah still makes a heck of an HR manual.

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