Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Responsibility in Management

"The spoke the chief butler unto Pharaoh saying 'I make mention of my faults this day: Pharaoh was wroth with his servants and put me in the ward of the house of the captain of the guard, me and the chief baker." (Bereshis 41:18)
A close examination of the episode of Yosef HaTzadik and the two Egyptian ministers turns up an interesting observation.  Who exactly were the culprits in the incident that wound the two ministers up in jail?  Look at the following:
"And it came to pass after these things that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord, the king of Egypt.  And Pharaoh was wroth against his two officers, against the chief of the butlers and against the chief of the bakers.  And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Yosef was bound." (Ber 40:1-3)
When the Torah talks about who actually did the misdeed, the word "chief" is conspicuously missing.  Yet it appears when describing who actually went to prison.  One could conclude from this that while anonymous members of the butlering and baking staff were at fault for whatever offended Pharaoh, the king decided to punish the ministers in charge of each department for failing to maintain properly quality control.
The dreams each minister then had while in prison contain an additional dimension which allows us to understand why Yosef gave a favourable interpretation to the chief butler but not the chief baker.
In the chief butler's dream, he is directly preparing the wine he will be delivering to Pharaoh while in the chief  baker's dream he is carrying bread on baskets to Pharaoh.  If we understand the reason they wound up in jail is because of a mistake their underlings committed, then this makes perfect sense.  The chief butler has recognized that the failure of quality control in his department is his fault and in the future he'll take an active role in supervising the preparation of the wine so nothing will go wrong.  The chief baker, meanwhile, hasn't learned anything.  In his mind, he is still separated from the preparation of the bread, just like the baskets separate his head from the bread in them.  No one can interfere with the chief butler if he personally involves himself with the preparation of the wine but the birds are still free to come and peck away from the bread from the chief baker.
The lesson Yosef learns from this is clear.  Instead of being an aloof ruler, barking orders from a throne on high, the Torah tells us that Yosef tours Egypt and personally supervises the building and stocking of the store cities.  Not only does he have a plan to save the country from famine, he will personally be involved with it to ensure its success.
Those of us who have positions of management can learn a great deal from this.  A good manager knows how to delegate responsibility but maintains an interest in his delegates.  A bad manager sloughs off tasks onto underlings and then claims not to know how things went wrong when one of them screws up. 
Chazal tell us that God helps those who help themselves.  We can all learn from Yosef how to manage our lives through taking an interest in all their facets.

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