“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” — Thomas Jefferson
“Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: ‘Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their fathers to give them, and it is you who shall apportion it to them'” Deuteronomy 31:7.
“And He [God] charged Joshua son of Nun: ‘Be strong and resolute: for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them on oath, and I will be with you'” Deuteronomy 31:23.
On his last day on earth, Moses publicly addresses his successor, Joshua, wishing him strength and resoluteness: “For it is you who shall go with this people [as one of them] into the land.” Then, a few verses later, God charges Joshua similarly, but with a clear distinction: “For you shall bring the Israelites into the land.” The distinction between go (Hebrew: tavo) and bring (Hebrew: tavi) is even more subtle sound-wise.
Rashi, the great medieval commentator, makes much of this distinction and helps us unpack the differences in the leadership style recommended for Joshua, reflecting classic managerial dilemmas. In Rashi’s interpretation, Moses told Joshua, “The elders of the generation will be with you. Everything has to be done according to their opinion and their advice.” God, on the other hand, according to Rashi, said to Joshua, “For thou shalt bring [tavi] them even against their will; everything depends on you alone; if necessary, take a stick and beat them over the head (!); there can be but one leader for a generation, and not two leaders.”
Moses seems to advise Joshua to lead by adopting a participative approach (“The elders of the generation will be with you…”) so as to strive for consensus; alternatively, God instructs Joshua to adopt a more authoritarian style, with God’s critical backing (“…and I will be with you”). Thus, Rashi views the distinction to be substantive. Moses may have offered his participative advice as a lesson gleaned from his sometimes uncompromising stance, which resulted in his buckling under pressure more than once. God may have offered His guidance to Joshua in light of the lessons learned from Aaron’s failure at the Sin of the Golden Calf and Moses’ leadership failure with the Sin of the Spies when each initially sought to accommodate the people’s will.
Another perspective of this distinction may be the emphasis of both recommendations on the specific challenges facing the current generation as they enter the Promised Land. Moses, lamenting his being barred from entering the land, may be saying to Joshua, wistfully: It is you (not me and not the others who died in the desert after the Sin of the Spies) who will be going with this people to the land, so you should feel fortunate for this opportunity.
In contrast, God’s advice is not a mere empathic gesture but an acknowledgment of the immense challenge and anticipated resistance in moving a nation through another transformational change—leaving the boundaryless desert lifestyle and adopting an entirely new regime requiring considerably more structure and individual responsibility in their new land. God may remember better than Moses that for the last transformational change, God instructed that the Israelites’ departure from Egypt needed to be accomplished in haste—not so much to avoid being stopped by the Egyptian army, but perhaps to avoid the potential ramifications of a participatory approach (e.g., “How about we wait till the bread dough has fully risen?”), which could have derailed the entire endeavor. So, whichever leadership style Joshua will adopt, each will require him to “Be strong and resolute.”
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What makes a good manager? Management style has been addressed copiously in the business literature. The number of suggested leadership or management styles is endless. Are there three types, four types, 15 types––or all of the above? Over a half-century ago, Douglas McGregor popularized a distinction among those managers who function according to Theory X (authoritarian) or Theory Y (participative). The Theory X approach assumes that workers are inherently lazy, unmotivated by their work, look for the easy way out, and only perform productively when compelled to; these managers engage in micro-management, dictating performance goals, and reward and punish their employees accordingly. The Theory Y approach assumes that people are motivated to be productive, enjoy their work, appreciate a challenge, and value responsibility; these managers typically opt for a participatory management style.
The Theory Y approach seems to resonate more with the post-Baby Boomer workforce. Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Y individuals are inclined to seek meaningful work, a feature best cultivated in a Theory Y workplace. It is tempting to conjecture that the Pygmalion effect would be at play here (as in a self-fulfilling prophecy), with Theory X managers reinforcing Theory X employees’ behavior and Theory Y managers reinforcing Theory Y employees’ behavior. Returning to the Israelites’ wanderings in the Sinai wilderness, an alternative case could be made whereby the post-Egyptian slavery population was trained along the parameters of Theory X. In contrast, the Promised Land population was ripe for a future-oriented approach, calling for Theory Y. However, in God’s exhortation to Joshua, He seemed to opt for a Theory X approach, at least for the immediate transition period upon entering the Promised Land.
Current trends regarding management style seem to be going in the direction of flexibility, perhaps the only approach that can contend with the myriad changes challenging management today and for the foreseeable future, such as the multi-generational workforce. Kenneth Blanchard, of The One-Minute Manager fame, emphasized the importance of the organization’s context and staff : A situational management model may find a laissez-faire approach inappropriate for a young team or a crisis situation, and veteran professionals may not appreciate a micro-management approach. A start-up company would benefit from a different approach than a global conglomerate. For instance, among the factors influencing an effective management style for team leadership would be the specifics of the task, the relationship between the team members and the leader, the team members’ professional level, maturity or developmental level, and the level of the leader’s authority.
In summary, there is no single best management style, and each has its benefits and shortcomings (you probably surmised that!). In the real world, management is not a “flavor-of-the-day” concept for the potential manager, no matter what the business literature bookshelf would have you believe. Most individuals are naturally limited in the range of management styles they can adopt, irrespective of the organization’s needs. People come with their personalities, values, background, etc. Thus, organizations are advised to seriously analyze their unique managerial needs before recruiting a new hire. It’s unrealistic to say, “Well, she was great at our competitor’s firm, so she is what we need here,” because the two organizations’ leadership needs will likely differ.
- If promoted to a leadership role, you can benefit from consulting with others and reading the pros and cons of common leadership styles. You probably feel comfortable with the management style you inherited from your admired managers or feel more authentic with the approach that has always characterized you. Since you may be facing situations (e.g., periods of staff turnover) that call for adjustments, you would do well to expand your leadership comfort zone. After all, we are not chameleons; we all have limits, but we can make efforts to develop our skill sets.
- Why do new managers fail? Among the common pitfalls: 1) New managers were never appropriately trained, with management falsely assuming that a top professional could easily manage other professionals (they speak the same language, right?). 2) New managers confuse managing with leading, both critical for success. The goal of managing is to ensure that objectives are attained, whereas leading involves motivating workers, representing a vision, and resolving conflicts, all contributing to a positive organizational culture. 3) New managers are not adaptable to change (where have we heard this before?).
Try this: If your company does not offer proper training, sign up for a formal or informal manager training course or consult a coach. This proactive tack will help you avoid some classic pitfalls plaguing rookie managers and help define yourself in your new role––an excellent career booster. In these classes—whether online or face-to-face––you can share with and learn from your new colleagues, thus extending your network and giving yourself a critical confidence lift.
For more Torah-Career connections, visit The Bible at Work: Career Counseling in the Five Books of Moses.
 Sacks, J. (2019). Covenant & conversation—A weekly reading of the Jewish Bible. Deuteronomy: Renewal of the Sinai covenant. Maggid Books & The Orthodox Union. Carson, C.M. (2005). A historical view of Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y, Management Decision, 43(3), 450–460.  “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” Rosenthal, R., & Babad, E. Y. (1985). Pygmalion in the gymnasium. Educational Leadership, 43(1), 36–39.  Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1969). Management of organizational behavior – Utilizing human resources. Prentice-Hall.  Pradco (n.d.). The top 3 reasons why new managers fail. Pradco.