Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Change Management and the Golden Calf

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By Brbbl (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Golden Calf is a story about the peril of a leader pushing change too quickly.  As you may recall from the book of Exodus (or from the movie The Ten Commandments), Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt in dramatic fashion.  God has brought Ten Plagues on Egypt, and parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape from the pursuing army of Egypt. Yet, the people quickly lost faith when Moses was away for too long.

When Moses was absent from the Israelites for 40 days and 40 nights, the people grew afraid and asked his brother Aaron to construct a Golden Calf to give them an object of worship.  This is one of the most infamous cases of fair weather friendship in the history of the world.  After all, the power of God was just demonstrated through dramatic miracles that delivered a people from 400 years of slavery.  But these miracles, which everyone must of seen with their own eyes, were insufficient to overcome the strong cultural bias towards idol worship.

If we set aside the questions of divinity, this story says something powerful about culture: an entrenched culture cannot change overnight, even if an overwhelming set of evidence is presented that is should. During their time in Egypt, the Israelites had fallen into idol worship. And after hundreds of years statue worship, it was too big a jump to start worshipping an abstract God that no one could see.

The solution in the Bible is to create a Tabernacle  an intermediary structure that was kind of like the Egyptian temples, yet worshipped God. This same principle applies today.

If you are trying to change the culture of a company, or to change yourself, a dramatic change is exceedingly difficult to pull off. It is better to create an intermediary goal, something similar to what you are doing today, but a significant distance towards what you are trying to achieve.

And if you are hoping the culture of your company will change, even a great leader like Moses may not be able to pull it off.