by Erica Brown
A CFO asks a CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?” CEO to CFO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay.” I saw this on the website of leadership coach Peter Baeklund, who is interested in peak professional performance and how to grow it. It reminded me that this is a great time of the year to think about how we grow ourselves and others as we face the happy prospect of a new year. Important time changes prompt us to think about how to change, improve, tweak and get better at what we spend most of the day doing: our jobs.
If you like making New Year’s resolutions or even if you don’t, why not think this season about their application to your work life? At this moment, you may be saying, “Hey, I thought we Jews do this in the fall.” It’s true. We have been given an incredible gift of annual introspection, where we beat our chests, confess our failings and commit to overcoming them and learning from our mistakes. So let’s think of the secular New Year as the mid-year performance review. How are we doing with all those things we were going to change this past September?
In actuality, Yom Kippur is more about looking back than looking forward. It’s more of a review than a resolution. And, let’s face it, few of us when standing in synagogue or reflecting in a yoga pose at home are thinking about office life. We are usually thinking about family interactions, personal health and character flaws and broader hopes for a world that seems torn by profound troubles. Work problems seem small, even trivial, in this larger personal and universal scheme.
But work challenges, especially those that surface because of our impatience, lack of empathy, moodiness or poor anger management (or our difficulty interacting with co-workers and supervisors who are like this) can scratch away at every day dignity. They can rob us of a job’s inspiration and meaning. When met in deep doses, such every day dilemmas can also prompt us to think again about Jewish communal work. What if everyone is actually nicer on the other side – in corporate or other non-profit work?
We cannot afford that as a profession. So here are three ways to help ensure that our work place challenges get the attention they need and deserve this 2016:
Review Past Performance Reviews: Find those old performance reviews (even from previous employers) and read them together. Ask yourself what patterns keep emerging that you really want to get a handle on this year. If you don’t have performance reviews at hand, ask someone you trust who is an honest broker to accompany you to lunch and talk through the change/s.
Write It Down: This week, schedule an hour out of the office to do the real work of work: review the attitudes and behaviors that may be getting in the way of your own professional success. Be as specific as possible about arenas that need improvement. What gets measured can get changed, but if there is no articulation of the issues, the chance of making headway diminishes.
Get a Mentor: It’s hard to go it alone if you don’t have a voice of reason and wisdom to talk to and keep you at your best. This year, identify someone you admire who seems to have mastered some of the professional hurdles you struggle with now. I love John Gardner’s definition of a mentor from his book, On Leadership: “A mentor is simply someone who helps someone else learn something that he or she would have learned less well, more slowly or not at all, if left alone. Notice the power-free nature of this definition! Mentors are not power figures. Mentors are learning coaches – sensitive, trusted advisors…Mentoring from a partnership perspective means, ‘We are fellow travelers on this journey toward wisdom.’”
Let’s face it, we are all travelers on this journey toward wisdom. We do our jobs because they are also part of a larger mission about our people and our humanity. We should be proud of who we are and what we do. And that all starts on the inside.
Dr. Erica Brown’s latest book is Take Your Soul to Work: 365 Meditations on Every Day Leadership. Read one a day as a small New Year’s resolution. Erica will be giving away a free copy to a Jewish communal professional who sends her the most creative New Year’s resolution for work. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.