The other day, I heard a story about a boss whose employee approached him for encouragement. The employee was working on a project, and he asked the boss how he thought it was going.
The boss replied with something along the lines of, "I am not your mother. When you finish the project, we'll see how you did."
All of the people who were with me laughed at the story, recognizing the employer's approach as unhelpful. But I didn't.
I have learned a lot about management in the past few years of heading the beit midrash here in Toronto. Helping avreichim learn, teach and grow is quite different from leading a congregation, and it's been quite the learning curve for me. Among the lessons has definitely been that relationships cannot be taken for granted; praise must be expressed explicitly, criticism must be couched properly, and so on. And yet…
… I really like that "I am not your mother" line. It's military, hard-nosed. It's macho. Tommy Lee Jones. Mark Messier.
Listen to this piece from Sports Illustrated about Mark Messier, the Oiler-turned-Ranger:
There is an oft-told story—one that might even be true—that in 1987 Messier grabbed Kent Nilsson, a flashy but fainthearted Oilers forward, and told him that if he didn't play harder, he would have to kill him… Another former Oiler, who won't confirm the Nilsson story but doesn't exactly deny it, either, says, "You didn't get this from me, but I heard he also threatened [former Rangers coach] Mike Keenan."
True, the "I am not your mother" approach will likely prove unproductive; why wait for your employee to come back to you with inappropriate work, only to criticize him then? And it's not terribly Jewish; Moshe's model of leadership is כאשר ישא האומן את היונק, the nurse holding a baby. It's the shepherd tailoring his style for every sheep, per Shemot Rabbah.
But something in the curmudgeon really appeals to me. Maybe it's my New York upbringing.