Lesson 1: (Shmot) – “A new king over Egypt” – “A new broom sweeps clean”


Course: Exodus – Part 1
Lesson #1 of 4

Series: The Bible at Work: Career Coaching in the Torah

Teacher: Dr. Benny Benjamin

20Views | Published: January 5, 2023 | Revised: December 29, 2023

“A new broom sweeps clean, but an old broom knows the corners.” Traditional proverb

Now there arose a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph. And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise, in the event of war, they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground” Exodus 1:8-10.

After Joseph’s generation died, Egypt’s new king “knew not Joseph.” One would have thought Joseph’s legacy would be legendary among Egyptians, given his prominent role in Egypt’s success as a regional or even world power. We don’t really know if the new king’s lack of awareness was due to a forgotten legacy, a deliberate lapse of memory, a desire to “do things my way,” or identifying the growing Israelite population as a new threat to his kingdom. Sadly, the Israelites could no longer rely on Joseph’s historic contribution to Egypt to support their autonomy and standard of living. They would now have to learn to cope with new edicts and consider new survival strategies, foreshadowing a long era of oppression, bondage, and ultimate redemption.

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Many of us have lamented the loss of an admired supervisor or boss (with some undoubtedly relishing the change). A comfortable routine cannot be expected to last forever; we will always be compelled to adjust to new ways of operating, new priorities, and especially, a need to prove ourselves to one “who knew not Joseph.” Thus, we no longer have the luxury of “resting on our laurels” and counting on our boss’s memories of years past to get us through some less-than-sterling performances of the past month. We need to approach our job by reexamining how we will be evaluated, what has become critical, and what is now marginal as viewed by the new leader. As a veteran in the department, should we lecture her about “how things have always been done,” or should we do more listening? 

When “a new broom sweeps clean,” it clears the floor of all the gathered dust that may have been neglected or swept under the rug; but it also clears the floor of elements that may have been worth retaining. This leadership change calls for renewal and provides opportunities for constructive change but also poses a challenge for those who have difficulty adjusting to any transition, whether momentous or trivial.

The new manager may be younger than you and view the supervisor-supervisee relationship differently than what you have been comfortable with. They may have a different management style and a desire to establish a different working culture, perhaps based on the new-fangled business literature. If we find ourselves resisting these changes, we should ask ourselves if we find it difficult to leave our comfort zone or if some of the changes just go against our self-image or values as workers, professionals, or people. Indeed, many work aspects we have taken for granted may no longer be what current practice dictates. It’s usually wise to allow the new manager to settle into her position, avoid giving immediate advice, adopt an optimistic outlook, and even try to see yourself through her eyes today and not rely on merits that you may well have earned years ago.

A work history shared with colleagues and supervisors typically produces shortcut vocabulary, unchallenged assumptions, and other nuances that ease you through the day. Some of these will require review and, as noted, an opportunity to benefit from a general “reboot.” This transition provides a chance to rededicate yourself to the overriding principle of today’s workforce: “Do your best, and seek out opportunities to learn new skills that you can apply in future positions”––prospects that may not have been obtainable during your previous boss’s term.

Points to Ponder:

  • Despite the considerable overlap, we are often inclined to confuse content and style in management. We’ve all heard government officials becoming irate over learning of their premature departure from indirect means, such as news reports. They seem to be offended more by how they were fired than the firing itself. Considering these aspects separately can help you discern the factors that may be troubling you in the new administration (style or content?) and help you determine if, when, and how to confront them.
  • In your initial meeting with the new boss or manager, try to avoid messages such as: “but that’s not part of my job,” “that’s never worked,” or “but we’ve always done it this way.” Regardless of the topic, these messages indicate you are not going to be one to count on when considering new directions. Messages more appealing to a new executive might be: “Interesting. I wonder how that would work,” “I hadn’t thought of doing it that way,” “When can we start?” These more appealing sentences needn’t sound pandering. They can be expressed authentically once you’ve moved past the stage of lamenting the change at the top. 
  • Try this: You’ll need to remember how to make that good first (and second) impression. Your previous boss is likely to have pigeonholed you somehow, perhaps to your benefit, but in a characterization that is no longer you. Decide how you want to be seen by the new boss. Use this occasion to break out of outdated labels and create a new, improved brand.
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