Last night was the first night of Hanukkah. You’ve probably seen a version of the candelabra that is used to hold the candles that are lit each night of the holiday. You might not, however, have noticed that while the holiday goes for 8 nights there are spaces for 9 candles in the candelabra, called a Menorah. The ninth candle is our business topic today.
That candle is called the shamash in Hebrew, which translates to “helper” or “servant.” It’s not like the other candles in that it sits either higher or lower than the others in the menorah. It’s used to light the other candles, and although it burns just as brightly and sits in the same candelabra, it’s different.
What this brings to mind is how those of us who have grown up into managers and executives become very much like the ninth candle. We’re servants and helpers. Our job is to help the other members of the team to do their job, much like the shamash enables the other candles. Where we get into trouble is when we forget that. The people who actually do the work don’t serve us. They serve the organization, its goals, and customers.
Think about the best boss you’ve ever had (and I hope you’ve had some great ones!). My guess is that they were clear communicators who respected you as a person and as a professional. They probably never talked down to you when you didn’t understand something and were always pushing you to be your best self. They were also willing to get you whatever you needed to do your job, to the extent they could whether that’s a better computer or a pencil. They were also unwilling to let a weak team member jeopardize the entire team so they were clear about standards and held everyone to the same ones.
As you pass by a menorah (whether it’s a real one or a picture) this Hanukkah, remind yourself that while you may be the boss, you’re also a shamash, a ninth candle that’s a part of the team. You might sit higher up but you’re really there to help. Make sense?
Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. For you gentiles in the audience, this holiday follows the pattern of many Jewish celebrations – someone tried to kill us; divine intervention saved us; let’s eat. In this case, that intervention took the form of making a single day’s supply of oil last eight days following a battle, and the food eaten this holiday is traditionally fried food in honor of the oil. It’s the last part on which I want to focus today’s screed.
No, this isn’t a rant on latkes (fried cakes of potatoes and onions) and besides, it isn’t Foodie Friday. It’s the tradition part and how the customs of the holiday got me thinking about business. As with any holiday, whether a religious holiday or not, there are customs. Foods we make, maybe clothes we wear, etc. Even within your family it may be one family member’s house for a particular celebration that never changes from year to year (think Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, etc.). These are traditions and they give a sense of comfort and continuity. They’re great things but not, in my opinion, in a business setting.
How we get into trouble is by honoring most business traditions. Some of them are fine, but not many. Most of the contexts which prompted the creation of a legacy business process (which is, after all what traditions are) have changed. Those changes have been dramatic, and thinking “that’s how we’ve always done it” can be a death knell. What we need to do is to look back on the tradition and ask “why.” Why was this, at some point, the right answer to a business problem and what can we learn from it to adapt it to current conditions?
I’ll make latkes and light candles and honor the traditions of the holiday this evening. When I go back to work tomorrow, it’s with an open mind and a mental library of traditional business answers from which to build new traditions that suit today’s challenges. You?
Thanksgiving is a lot of work in my house – maybe in yours as well. If you’ve been reading along, you know that the menu planning, shopping, and prep work has been going on for several days and today (Wednesday) is the biggest of the prep days. Tomorrow is focused on bringing all the pieces together, hopefully at the same time, and entertaining the horde that will descend. I like to think of those pieces as the three “F”s. Continue reading