Engendering Responsibility


naphtali-hoffBy Rabbi Naphtali Hoff

The Jewish people are bound by a communal sense of responsibility, one which places accountability for personal transgressions squarely on our collective shoulders. Take, for example, the incident of cheit ha’eigel. There, the Torah speaks in very general terms, as if all of Klal Yisrael had participated in idolatrous conduct.

And Hashem said to Moshe, “Go, descend, for your people that you have brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned away from the path that I have commanded them, they have made for themselves a molten calf! And they have prostrated themselves before it, slaughtered sacrifices to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (Shemos 32:7-9)

Yet, when one considers the actual extent of Jewish involvement in the sin – three thousand out of a total population of three million, or one half of one percent – we see that only a tiny percentage was involved. Why, then, the sweeping categorization?

One possible answer is that while the nation as a whole abstained from participating, the fact that a percentage of the people did indulge in such practice reflected poorly on the rest of them. Had the communal level of intolerance for such practice been stronger, one can assume that such activity would not have occurred.

We see this same idea with regards to the Jewish defeat at Ai, the battle which followed the conquest of Yericho under Yehoshua’s leadership. When Yehoshua pleaded before Hashem to discover the reason for their setback, He responded in the plural.

Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them, and they have also taken of the consecrated thing, and have also stolen, and also dissembled, and they have also put into their vessels. (Yehoshua 7:11)

In truth, only Achan had sinned, by taking forbidden spoils (cherem) from Yericho. Why was all of klal Yisroel punished? The reason is the same. In the words of Rav Eliyahu Dessler:

If klal Yisrael had held in the utmost the very idea of stealing from the cherem… it would have been impossible for even one individual to have dared to steal… (The fact that one did steal thus reflects adversely on the spiritual level of the whole people.) This slightest of faults…is expressed in the Torah in the grossest of terms. (Michtav M’Eliyahu, Volume 1, p. 194)

Clearly, the failing in each respective incident was the low benchmark that existed at the time, at least in relative terms. Had the communal standard been higher, had it been impossible for a person to function as an upstanding member of the broader community and still participate in such sinful conduct, the outcome would have been very different. That is why the community as a whole was held responsible.

Standard setting is the task of every leader. Leaders are charged to form and fashion an organizational culture that promotes pride in the mission and engenders employee commitment. They are also required to set a moral standard that demands responsibility and integrity as an operative baseline. Our company stands for something, There are values that drive our work. Naturally, achieving these goals is much easier said than done. How can leaders go about promoting such values within their workplaces?

For starters, leaders need to be positive role models. They must illustrate the behaviors that they seek from others by acting similarly. Do you seek integrity? Then demonstrate it in your actions and words and praise others who exhibit such qualities. Is reliability a value of yours? Then be reliable, by being where you say that you’ll be and delivering on your promises. If you want for others to work hard, you must roll up your own sleeves and display the effort and passion that you seek from your employees. Do you seek accountability? Then be accountable and willing to own up to mistakes and failures.

Leaders would also be well served to open up internal dialogue about organizational values and professional standards. What is our mission as a service provider? How do we view each other and our customers / business partners? What values and ideals capture the essence of who we are and what we do? Candid discussion involves everyone and offers others the opportunity to have a voice in the process. This leads to increased investment and commitment to the outcome.

Another component is to demonstrate trust. Trust is intrinsically motivating; he trusts me, so I must be deserving of his trust and will act to that standard. It also motivates others to perform out of a feeling of obligation that they not disappoint the one who has demonstrated belief in them and their capacity. Leaders can demonstrate trust through communication and empowerment. I confide in you and empower you because I believe in your capacity and have been pleased with past performances. I know that you won’t let me down in the future because of what you have shown me in the past.

While there is no guaranteeing that positive, engaging, empowering leadership will result in complete fidelity and trustworthiness, it stands to reason that we have much to gain and little to lose by fostering a vision for success that emphasizes respect, trust and shared responsibility.

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting (ImpactfulCoaching.com). He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at president@impactfulcoaching.com.

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