Getting to know Yale leaders—Janet Lindner

Janet Lindner is Yale’s vice president of Human Resources and Administration. She has served in many key roles during her more than 20 years at the university, including deputy vice president immediately before her current position. Prior to Yale, Janet was chief administrative officer for New Haven, overseeing city operations—police, fire, emergency management, facilities, human resources, and more.

What was the last book you read?

Charles Bukowski’s Post Office. I’m a fan of Bukowski and I enjoyed this book immensely for its off-beat way of looking at the world of work.

What do you think is the importance of having mid-year performance conversations with staff?

Performance reviews have such a formal tone to them. I much prefer ongoing conversations, to make sure we’re staying on track with key goals, to support managers and help them solve problems, and to be upfront about what’s working well and what needs attention. Having a mid-year review allows intervention and can help rethink priorities. As a manager, you don’t want to wait until the end of the year to see how everything is going.

What musical artist are you listening to right now?
I’m listening to Shallow by Lady Gaga. Since seeing the movie “A Star is Born”, I can’t get it out of my head.

How would you define an Individual Development Plan and why do you think it’s valuable for staff members?
It’s one more way of helping us all think about where we want to go and what we need to do to get there. This should be a prompt for a discussion with your manager, not just a form to fill out.  For me, it’s always useful to put ideas down on paper—there are so many paths our careers take, some of them up to us, some of them not.  It’s good to be flexible, but it’s also good to dream about where you’d like to go with your career: Would you like to move up doing similar work, would you like to scale back, would you like to take an entirely different career path—and, importantly, what are the next steps you should take to get you there? A career path is not a straight line, and sometimes your next job might be simply to learn about a new area.

What are you most grateful for?
People.  My family first, my friends, and my colleagues.  Hands down, people matter the most: Treat them well and with respect—and make sure you are trustworthy, because your reputation is everything.

What would be your ultimate vacation destination?
Right now, anyplace warm that includes a hammock and a drink with an umbrella in it.

What do you think would make the world a better place?
More kindness. We are in a 24/7 news cycle and sometimes it feels to me that all we hear is bad news, and people’s viewpoints can seem so extreme. I don’t find this when interacting with people one-on-one. We need more kindness, and it starts with us.

What New Haven restaurant would you recommend to a new employee?
L’Orcio for a special night out, and Modern Apizza because if you’re new to New Haven, you must try New Haven pizza. Pepe’s and Sally’s also qualify!

What has helped you develop as a manager over the course of your career—relationships, courses, making mistakes, hard work?
All of the above. Careers are one component of life. We are going to make mistakes; we’re going to get lost directionally; we need people to support us and we need to support others, particularly as we gain experience—share it, build each other up. There are few greater satisfactions than knowing you have helped someone build a career. I’ve been fortunate, in life and career, to love what I do (most days) and I try not to make the same mistakes more than once or twice.  If I could tell my 21-year-old self something about my future career, it would be to not obsess about a mistake, and that life and careers are all part of a journey, not a race to the finish.

What is one of your favorite memories from childhood?
Being in school plays. I was a shy kid and we moved many times, so you would think being on stage would be terrifying for me, but it was the opposite—I could immerse myself in a character and it’s an exciting experience to “own” the stage. That, and getting my first puppy!

Can you please tell me about: The first time you made a mistake on the job; or reached an important goal; or realized what you wanted to be when you grew up; or were promoted.
The first time I took my dreams seriously:  I worked in city government in NYC and did all types of analytical and project work, and I wanted to test my ideas by running operations in a city. I love cities—the complexity, the immensity of the problems they face, and the way they work. I only told my husband, because it felt like hubris, but I worked towards it, gained experience, sought out people who had done the work, pursued a masters degree in it, and took a chance and said yes when the opportunity arose to be Chief Administrative Officer for the City of New Haven. I’ve never regretted taking a risk in my career—I’ve only regretted not taking a leap of faith when opportunities presented themselves.