Who Do You Manage?

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I used to teach a course on Management at several schools within Yeshiva University. I began the first class with the following question: “Who do you manage?”

Students most often answered, as one might think, with a long list of synonyms for employees. Some even referenced managing one’s supervisor, or ‘managing up’, a subject for a later conversation. But I believe that management must first begin with oneself – self-management is the fundamental means through which all other management flows.

What is self-management?

In Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman and his team of researchers share the essentials of Emotional Intelligence. For years, business schools encouraged keeping all feelings out of the workplace, fearing that any level of emotionality would be distracting. It turns out they were completely wrong; emotions are the most important tool at a leader’s disposal. The cover image of their groundbreaking book is a magnet, aptly symbolizing how a leader’s emotions and how he or she manages those emotions have a direct influence on everyone that works for and around them.

Our tradition is replete with examples of this idea; when we think of Gedolim, we think not only of their knowledge or their political savvy, we think first and foremost of their middos, or what we may call Emotional Intelligence.  The most important leader of all, Moshe Rabbeinu, is introduced to us through a set of stories that do not demonstrate leadership skills inasmuch as they demonstrate his compassion and empathy. When Hashem describes Moshe’s greatness, it is his humility that is highlighted.

However, in order to manage one’s emotions, one must first be aware of them.

Once again, Moshe serves as a perfect model. Not only did Moshe have brilliant emotional intelligence, he was deeply attuned to their inner workings. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz makes a fascinating observation to this effect. Nowhere in the Torah do we find Hashem instructing Moshe to lead the Jewish People through the desert and to the land of Israel; he is only told to lead them to Sinai. It must be, argues Rav Shmuelevitz, that Moshe understood his passions and talents, his internal strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness, he is teaching us, drove Moshe into a position of leadership and to understanding that this was the specific role Hashem wanted him to fulfill. It is only through deep self-awareness and emotional intelligence that one can be a true leader.

A full third of the course I taught was dedicated to self-knowledge and self-development. Without knowing who we are, we cannot properly connect to those we lead.

The first exercise I would give my students is a simple self-assessment, which I will leave with you as well: Take a moment to jot down 5 of your strengths and 3 of your weaknesses. If you’re really brave, ask five people who know you well to do the same exercise, sharing with you what they think are your five greatest strengths and three greatest limitations. Receiving this feedback from others and comparing it with your own list will provide tremendous insight as to who you really are. The first step to being a Mentch Manager is having a deep sense of self-awareness; who we are, what we excel at, what we struggle with, and only then can we start to think about managing ourselves… and others.