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September 18, 2006
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

If Not Me, Who? If Not Now, When?

This is an article about one key component of some dreams that we all share. The dream is that we will have a happy and successful life. The dream is that we will make a difference in the lives of others, and that we are looked at — after we die — as people who stood for something wonderful. One critical component of realizing these dreams is in increasingly dangerous short supply, from the HR Doctor’s observations over more than three decades.

That ingredient is a compelling sense of personal urgency.

Nearly daily in the HR Doctor’s human resources work, I encounter employees who appear by their demeanor or disinterest to be, essentially, grazing until they find another job, retire or figure out how to take full advantage of workers’ compensation provisions. Many of these employees hide from new assignments. They don’t display a sense of the need to work so that they will be considered an organizational asset and a "go-to" person.

When visiting high school classes, teaching undergraduate and graduate students, and certainly at the workplace, it is all too easy to note the often significant number of people who don’t appear to have a passion for what the future could mean for them, and don’t appear to have a personal plan or vision for themselves.

As a result, they are dooming themselves to be governed by the behavior and actions of others. They will also find that their emotions will get in the way of their own success. This may manifest in arrogance at work or some of its first-cousin behaviors such as bullying, sexual harassment or violence.

Conversely, there are employees who present to their supervisors as diligent, hardworking, earnest people, but when given a challenge or an assignment upon which others will depend, they may fail to produce or default to some chapters in a gigantic book of excuses.

What is missing in all of these cases is a compelling sense of personal responsibility, accountability and urgency to accomplish what is expected and to perhaps even to exceed those expectations. Those employees who demonstrate a sense of responsibility and urgency are those who are soon recognized and promoted. These are the people to recruit, mentor and help become the next generation of committed, visionary leaders.

The title of this article is derived from a number of similar quotes, one of which is attributed to the former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The root origin may be in the writings of the Hebrew scholar Rabbi Hillel whose quote was "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But, if I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?" The common theme to this great expression of wisdom is the need to overcome what the HR Doctor describes as a serious public enemy — our own inertia. It is the theme calling for us to become more accountable as an agent of change. This applies to our professional careers certainly, but it also applies to each of us as citizens. It applies to how we interact with our family, and especially our children, our spouses and even to our next-door neighbor.

To become the person of passion and joy that Hillel referred to, the magic ingredients are the vision of what you can do and contribute mixed well with personal accountability and an urgency to improve, learn and accept challenges. This will help produce a career that is successful and full of happiness. Indeed, actively seeking out challenges rather than merely accepting the ones you cannot avoid, is the seasoning in the success/joy recipe.

Don’t believe me? Then accept a simple challenge. At the very next opportunity, volunteer for a project and work hard at it. See it through to completion. Watch what happens. If you work in an organization, or work for a boss with a sense of appreciation for others, your work will be recognized. The results will begin a positive spiral that will make your work more productive and effective.

On the other hand, if your great project work occurs in an agency with Godzilla the Manager, where the words "thank you" are rarely uttered anywhere, then reread the quote from Rabbi Hillel. Be for yourself as well as for others. You may find that your best hope of success is to plan carefully and exercise that compelling urgency as you leave for another agency where your work habits and personal habits will be appreciated more.

Finally, if you supervise others reread Rabbi Hillel’s words yet again and concentrate on the part that talks about, "But, if I am not for others, what am I?"

Start a campaign now to bring pleasant surprises and appreciation to those whom you supervise. Ironically, sometimes the best way to do that is to let them know how much you need their help and how proud you are of them. Follow up by giving them a new challenge that will help them stretch and grow even further in their careers.

You can be your own best friend or you can be a banana slug. You can act with urgency in this all-too-short life to make things happen, or you can watch TV all day, hoping that someone else will take responsibility for making your life happy and successful. I fear that if you choose the latter approach, you will be bitterly disappointed for the remainder of your life.

Be for yourself. Be for others. Do it now!

Phil Rosenberg

The HR Doctor •


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