Behavior Modification

Once again, a happy and healthy New Year to you and your family.

According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person's fate for the coming year into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to "seal" the decision. During the Days of Awe, we try to amend our behavior and seek forgiveness for our wrongs during the past year. Our prayers on the evening and day of Yom Kippur are focused on public and private confessions of guilt. Fortunately, at the end of Yom Kippur, we are to consider ourselves absolved by God.

My son asked me over Rosh Hashanah if it really is that easy. While grinning, he said to me, “Yom Kippur comes once a year…I say I am sorry lots and lots of times for a bunch of things even though some were not my fault…and “poof”…I get to start the year with no points against me?” We talked a bit more and concluded that there is more he really needs to do. In reality, he/we must all commit to the internal and external changes we wish to make – and see them through.

During Rosh Hashanah, I took time to reflect on the past year and my own behaviors. I even re-read a short book published in 2002 (interestingly, it is currently #2 on the Wall Street Journal’s business book list), Patrick Lencioni’s, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The story begins as Kathryn comes out of retirement to become CEO of an underperforming Silicon Valley technology company. She soon encounters a talented executive team that “goes along to get along,” even as the company is being beaten by the competition. Kathryn does not back down from difficult decisions, but she first insists on honest and heated debate. That type of difficult conversation, however, is possible only once trust is established.

In the book, the absence of trust is the first and foremost dysfunction of a team. Without trust, as the book goes on, team members fear conflict, lack commitment, avoid accountability, and do not attend to results, the four other dysfunctions. Kathryn also teaches that progress comes only when everyone is pulling for “team” goals – not individual goals.

As I read the book I thought to myself that these are similar challenges facing our Jewish community.

Let’s look at each of Lencioni’s “dysfunctions”:

The absence of trust is a major stumbling block in any type of relationship (personal, professional, organizational). I hope going forward we all begin with the mindset that each of us is starting from a place of “doing good” and making things better. Without trust you can never move ahead.

Fear of conflict seems so natural to the Portland ethos. I have observed that, at times, some people prefer “artificial” harmony over constructive passionate debate.

Lack of commitment to group decisions can create ambiguity. Oftentimes people will feign buy-in for an idea. If our community makes decisions on how to move forward then we need 100% commitment to making it a reality.

Avoidance of accountability is a different way of saying low expectations. When people do not challenge themselves, their peers, and organizations on counterproductive behavior and ideas, standards can get set lower and lower. We must be guided by excellence.

Inattention to results is focused on personal success where status and ego come before team success. We must stress the importance of sacrificing personal (or individual organizational) ambition for the larger goal of a stronger, more vibrant Jewish community.

Reading the book made me reflect on the many ways I can be a better professional leader and colleague. I still have much to learn and ways to grow. One of my primary roles as CEO of the Jewish Federation is to build a better (communal) “team.” Only through a team approach can we move our community forward and keep pace with the ever-evolving needs of our Jewish community.

My challenge to you, and me, is to help our community be a “change maker.” We must take collective action through our behaviors…our words...our relationships...and transform our community for the better. We need you to step forward and get involved – your passion will drive our success. As I learned long ago, there are two types of people – those who tell you why something cannot be done and those who tell you how it can. I promise that we can!

The most important and difficult decisions are about adjusting for change – whether as individuals in our personal lives, professional worlds, or our communal involvements. And, once we decide on that transformation we have to believe that the changes we want are the right thing to do. It may take weeks, months, or even years to modify behaviors and strategies. But we cannot wait until Yom Kippur each year to try and start over to get it right.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur together affirm the chance for positive change; for no matter how old or routine, there is hope for new ideas and new ways. I am so proud of my son for recognizing this.

G’mar Chatimah Tova. May you be sealed for a good year.

Shabbat shalom.



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