Where eulogy virtues are resume virtues

This season of recently completed commencement ceremonies and valedictories featured a seemingly unending spate of references to the writings of NY Times columnist and television pundit, David Brooks. Wherever one turns of late, one encounters Brooks’ popular construct in which he suggests that there are two different types of virtues in life: resume and eulogy. As the names imply, resume virtues are the things we put on our resumes and CVs that describe the skills we bring to the marketplace. Eulogy virtues, are the things that get talked about at our funerals, the deeper attributes about who we are, our relationships and passions, the things we stand for. An irony of the human condition, as those who invoke Brooks’ paradigm point out, is that despite insisting “eulogy” virtues are more important than “resume” virtues, most of us spend our time and energies building up the latter, at the expense of the former.  The predictable message to graduates, from those who cite Brooks, is that they should avoid these pitfalls, devoting themselves to the pursuit of loftier attributes instead of being consumed with more quotidian matters.

As the CEO of an institution of higher learning, constantly on the lookout for meaningful commencement messages, I desperately wanted to embrace this ‘resume-eulogy’ paradigm. After all, anything that reminds us that work constitutes just a single piece of who we are and what we treasure is a message I want to endorse. But as a lifelong Jewish communal professional, and as the President of an Institute dedicated to the training and development of Jewish leaders, I am forced to reject such an oversimplified bifurcation.

Those who work in the Jewish community – whether for just a few years or over the course of several decades – have come to understand that separating between “resume” virtues and “eulogy” virtues is a fabrication, a straw man that deliberately ignores the value system that lies at the core of our work.

Mr. Brooks has chosen to overlook something about leadership that the best Jewish communal professionals have known for a long time. Leadership is always about character. When we come to work – whether we work in a venerable Jewish agency or a start up [N.B. Sorry, I just cannot bring myself to use the more popular term “legacy organization,” which inexcusably has become a moniker of derision] - we do not leave our moral compass at home in the bucket marked “eulogy virtues.” No, for those dedicated to advancing Jewish life and who do so for a living, our eulogy virtues are our resume virtues. Great leadership is always about character.

Integrity, humility, compassion, a commitment to serving and growing others – these are what make us great in the office, and in our personal lives as well. No bifurcation, no separation between virtues. The great teacher of leadership, Warren Bennis noted, “The process of becoming a leader is much the same as the process of becoming an integrated human being. Life itself,” said Bennis, “is the career.” And to succeed in our careers as Jewish communal leaders, we must embrace and embody the very virtues that Brooks would reserve only for our funerals.

In suggesting that the deeper values of character, ethics, and integrity are the seminal values of the Jewish organizational workplace, I do not suggest that “resume virtues” have no place in our offices and our careers.  On the contrary; competence and character are never substitutes for one another. We who toil in the vineyards of Jewish life must be every bit as proficient, effective, productive, innovative, tenacious, accomplished, and credentialed as our for-profit counterparts. It is not enough that we be women and men of great character. There can be no place in our field for morally impressive but otherwise, inadequate and ineffectual leaders.

At the same time, by insisting on a separation between “resume” and “eulogy” virtues, Brooks falls victim to what his fellow journalist, George Will, likes to call the fallacy of the false alternative. It may be true that the American workplace has rejected the very virtues we hope will be recalled at our funerals. But in our business – the business of building a twenty-first century Jewish world – those values are precisely what it takes to succeed at work. We should not be misled into believing that “eulogy” values are ‘soft’ or ‘squishy’ or somehow un-businesslike. The truth is, collaboration, empowerment, power sharing … are not only good values; they are good business. And we, Jewish communal professionals, if we rise to the standard, can become shining examples of what good business, good politics, and good entrepreneurship should be. Relegating things like ethics and mentschlikhkeit to “eulogy” virtues suggests they are not necessary or essential in the marketplace. The stakes are too high in our highly volatile, rapidly changing world to buy-in to such a distortion.  

A version of this article was originally published on eJewishPhilanthropy.com 

Jewish leadership expert Dr. Hal M. Lewis, President and CEO of Spertus Institute, on Judaism, leaders, and leadership.... Read More

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