Rabbi calls on Moses to lead a generation of managers

Lucky for Moses that he lived 2,500 years ago, because he would never get a job today, writes Rabbi David Baron.

"Imagine hiring a manager whose profile reads: reluctant to lead, a stutterer," he writes in the introduction to his new book, "Moses on Management."

In the book, the Los Angeles-area rabbi presents 50 short chapters on management while citing examples from Moses and modern-day companies. As the title suggests, the author positions Moses, despite his shortcomings, as a model of management.

You just have to focus on the right qualities: Moses delegated authority. He spoke directly to the people on their level. His management was aided by a team effort that included his mother, his wife, his brother and his father-in-law. And as a former shepherd, Moses was able to deal with the Jews in the desert because he "knew the turf," Baron said.

The importance of knowing the turf cannot be understated, according to Baron.

"When Bob Pittman became president of Six Flags Theme Parks, he didn't know anything about amusement parks. The first day he got up at 4 a.m., put on overalls, and followed around the park sweepers. He said, 'I learned more about the way amusement parks work from that morning than I did in the next two weeks of board meetings. I learned where the problems were, where the lines were too long, where the concession business wasn't working well…I got an inside view by being in the front lines,'" Baron said.

"That's another important lesson you can take from the life of Moses."

Baron said his book aims to get people to bridge the gap between the values espoused in their religious community and those that guide the business arena. He hopes people will carry the values of Moses and other religious figures into their professional lives.

"Religious values are beginning to impact the workplace," said Baron, pointing to employers who offer Bible and ethics classes for employees without endorsing any particular religion or practices.

Corporate philanthropy is also taking a place in the equation.

"Employees want to know they're just not working for a living, [but that their] companies can impact the world for good, for what we call tikkun olam."

But aren't his book's messages, such as treating people fairly, asking for what you want, and giving talented people room to shine, implicit in life, even obvious?

"You can say the Ten Commandments themselves are a restatement of the obvious," Baron responds. "Yes, don't kill, don't steal, don't lie, don't commit adultery. That should be pretty obvious. But because these things manifest in each succeeding generation, it's important to restate and repeat. That's probably the great genius of Moses, that he continues the reinforced message."

But leadership doesn't mean perfection. "I think what we have to say is, yeah, even Moses was flawed. People make mistakes. It's how they grow from those mistakes that's important."

Baron, who is married and has one son, writes in the book that he lost his first wife to cancer around the time that he was let go from his job at a synagogue in the South.

The experience, he said, gave him great empathy for single parents. He also identified with people who were laid off in corporate downsizing, sometimes from positions they had held for many years. Thus, there's a chapter in the book on dealing with crises.

"It's pretty devastating to be dumped or terminated. But as trying as that moment is, it's a golden opportunity to re-invent yourself, to look at you in a different way and to find a new way of making a contribution, maybe a new model for what you do."

Baron cites people who have switched careers three and four times, something far more common today than in the past. As a model of resilience, he cites — who else? — Moses.

"Look at the changes Moses underwent in his lifetime: He was a child destined to be killed, he became the Prince of Egypt, he fled into the wilderness and became an escapee, became a shepherd, and then he returned to become a political leader."

When Baron isn't speaking about Moses, he keeps busy professionally with Image Movement Technology, a start-up effort in which he and a partner are developing a scrolling billboard.

And he has his congregation in Beverly Hills, Temple Shalom for the Arts, which he founded eight years ago in an attempt to reach the 70 percent of Los Angeles-area Jews who are unaffiliated.

The independent synagogue, which meets for a monthly Shabbat service, blends religion with music, drama, arts and dance. The cantors include a former president of the Screen Actors Guild and an actress who was in "Beauty and the Beast."

"For some people, it's too much show, too little shul," Baron said. "For some people, it's the right mix."