I was recently asked what my management style at work is. I’ve been a director of two departments in the agency I work at, and someone asked how I “handle” staff with different personalities, what I do or say when someone “screws up” or when I have to admonish one of them. I answered that I take the straightforward approach and never beat around the bush. I am their boss first and friend second. I play to everyone’s strengths, and I encourage my staff to always come to me with questions. I try to model my style after the mashal of the rav who looked through several s’farim to answer a simple question from a woman. After the woman left, satisfied with her answer, the talmidim of the rav asked why he spent so much time looking up the answer when anyone could have answered that question in a moment without looking up the answer. The rav’s reply is where I take my lesson from: “If I answered right away and didn’t even think about it for one moment, the woman would feel foolish and embarrassed and may never come when she has another question that may in fact be an important one. I spent some time looking for an answer so she may come to me with another in the future.”
In regard to this column, I treat every email equally. If someone asks a question that others may judge as “simple,” I still take the time to answer, and I care about what I answer the people who write to me. I distinctly remember asking a question in eighth grade, and the teacher said it was a ridiculous question to ask and she wasn’t even going to answer it. So, you guessed it: I did not ask her any more questions for the rest of the year, and I didn’t pay attention in her class (this happened towards the end of the year, so I didn’t have to wait very long to be free of her). When I help to train new staff, I always relate that story as a lesson for them. I always say, “Ask! Ask! Ask! I don’t care if I’ve answered the question five times; if you need to hear the answer one more time to be able to assist your clients, then ask it.” Oh, I have learned so many things from my years in elementary school – and most of it was how not to speak and treat others. (I’m not lying, but that is a whole other column for another time.)
I decided to publish the letter below, with the writer’s permission, because it seems as though I can answer the question in one sentence. But I want to explain the answer and to tell the writer to keep on thinking as he is, and to ignore the foolish people putting ideas into his head. People would say, “Seriously? You took the time to answer this question and to publish it? Anyone would know not to listen to others when they say something stupid.” But if this fellow took the time to email me, obviously something is bothering him. I want to help all as best as I can.
I am dating a great woman whom I will refer to as Chaya. My issue isn’t with her, but rather what people are telling me about Chaya – which I know I shouldn’t listen to, because only trouble can come from me listening to people not in our relationship. But they may have a point.
Chaya has a high-profile job and manages many departments. She trains and supervises many and is respected in the company. I don’t feel threatened dating or marrying someone who is respected and has authority in the workplace, but it’s being said that Chaya may want to take over things at home and “be the boss at home.” I can see what they are saying. Chaya is tough, powerful, and professional at work, but in her personal life she is confident, happy, and personable. Nothing from work seems to carry over to her personal life. I’m being told to be careful.
Thank you for your email, Nate.
Nate, you are right when you wrote, “Only trouble can come from me listening to people not in our relationship.” You hit the nail on the head. Listening to a third party only causes trouble. Do you remember reading Othello in high school? Didn’t Iago whisper things in Othello’s ear to cause Othello to doubt his wife, Desdemona, which resulted in Othello killing her? I don’t know you or your friends, but to be honest, this sounds like something friends would say to each other while out for the evening, “Your wife or girlfriend is used to telling people what to do at work, you better be careful she doesn’t start bossing you around.” Or “She’s gonna wear the pants in your relationship.” It’s a sophomoric thing to say.
In the beginning of my marriage, I was asked by someone I came to know through my husband if I’m bossy at home because I was “the boss” at work. I told her that at work I was the boss – I was hired to do a specific job – but at home, I’m the wife and I embrace my role. I even wear an apron with fake pearls sewn in, much like June Cleaver, because I want to be “the wife.” Work is work, home is home. I’m not a feminist, and am not ashamed to say that at home, my husband is “boss.” I’m not saying that he orders me around or forbids me from doing something. We discuss things in civilized ways, but according to halachah, husbands and wives are not equal. This is fine with me because it’s a huge responsibility to be the one others look to for direction. The leader/manager is ultimately the one responsible for deliverables, and even worse, when an underling makes a mistake that may cause the company money or be in breach of a contract. It is certainly no small responsibility. I gladly hand over the reins. As I once heard someone say, “The crown is heavy to wear.”
Nate, stop listening to people and keep paying attention to Chaya. Trust what you are feeling on your own without letting others slip into your thoughts. If she hasn’t done anything “bossy” thus far, why do you think she would change so drastically once married? At work, Chaya must be assertive, confident, and strong. She must be able to make decisions, which possibly includes hiring and terminating staff as well as reprimanding them when needed. Chaya has worked hard to get where she is, but I am certain she too wouldn’t want to carry that into her personal life. I don’t know about Chaya, but I hang up my boss hat when I get home.
If it is your friends who are whispering in your ear, they are probably jealous that you have found a strong woman. I noticed something right away in your email. You used the word “woman”; usually letter writers write “girl” or “boy” when referring to dating. I have always disagreed with that. But right from the start, you called her a woman. Those who have been telling you all of this “bossy woman” garbage may be jealous and they themselves may not be able to handle such a woman. Many men may feel insecure married to such a woman, even if they are successful and powerful as well. I don’t know much about you, your age, where you live, or what you do (for all I know, “Nate” may be a fake name), but from your email, I do not think you are one of the insecure men to whom I referred. Nate, keep on ignoring them. And if it is one of your friends saying these things to you, then tell him or her that they sound like immature friends you had in middle school.
Nate, go and be happy with Chaya; and unless she is trying to lure you into a false sense of security, just to start turning into a witchy boss wife later, which I’m sure she’s not, then you have nothing to worry about.
Hatzlachah to you all!