14 September 2005

Are you living in a prison of your own design?

Do you see problems in your workplace?

Do you feel like you know how to fix these problems, but nobody's interested in hearing about it? Do you feel that you're not listened to, that you have no impact, that you are powerless to effect any meaningful change?

It could be that you are working in one of those top-down, hierarchical or highly political companies where nobody wants to hear about problems, and independent thought is not a virtue. But there are fewer and fewer of these companies every day, because they are going out of business. The world is changing too fast, and no company can avoid change and survive.

So consider this: what if it's not your company that constrains you at all? What if it's you?

It might be time to look at your constructions. Try asking yourself these key questions:
1) Are you really powerless? How much of your powerlessness is based on assumptions? Nearly everything has been talked about before or tried before, right? What makes today any different? Why should you succeed when others have failed? This is an imprisoning thought process. Today is always different, and you can succeed where others have failed; it happens every day.
2) Are you sure you want change? Most of the time it's easier to talk about change than to do it. If you really want things to happen, you have to be willing to put significant effort into it. You may or may not be rewarded. To a true change agent, the change itself is the real reward.
3) Are you talking or doing? Most change agents don't ask permission, they just make things happen. And much of the time, their bosses appreciate it. When you see a problem, do you talk about it or do you fix it?
4) Are you willing to take a risk? It's true that people sometimes get fired for sticking their necks out. But it's equally true that people get promoted for the same reason. Do you want to stay where you are? Then do your job, keep your mouth shut, and live with the status quo. Do you want to go places? Stick your neck out. Put your job on the line for something you believe in. No risk, no reward.
5) Do you bring problems to the table, or solutions? It's one thing to identify a problem, and quite another to be able to solve it, especially with limited resources. If you want people to listen to you, bring achievable solutions to the table, and be ready to take the lead if asked.
6) Why not? This is one of my favorite questions, both as a manager and as a practitioner. In my opinion it is not asked nearly enough. Try asking it at your next meeting.

If you feel powerless, you are living in a prison. It could be that the prison is real. It could be that you have designed it yourself. Either way, it's important that you break out of prison, now.

Think of it this way: if everyone keeps their head down and their mouths shut, and nobody sticks their necks out, the whole company will probably go down in the end. So if you stand up for positive change you win either way:
- If you get fired, you leave a sinking company earlier rather than later.
- If you get promoted, both you and your company will be better off.

It's time to start planning your jailbreak.

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Anonymous said...

Good post. It reminds me of a book I've been reading -- Radical Careering, by Sally Hogshead (www.radicalcareering.com). The book contains 100 "radical truths" to jumpstart your career. Radical truth #19 is "Being in a crap job isn't your fault. Staying in a crap job is." And #26 says "Circumstances can't cripple your career as much as doubt or passivity."

Unknown said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

You are totally on point. I have been contemplating the following quote in the same vein.

"You can blame people who knock things over in the dark, or you can begin to light candles. You're only at fault if you know about problems and choose to do nothing." - Paul Hawken

Tammy said...

sticking your neck out is much easier when you've got a plan to fall back on. for me, it's my nursing license. i'm working in performance improvement and bringing changes to company, with the CEOs approval. but there's lots of complaining and politicky. it's nice to know there's a nursing shortage, just in case. :D

Unknown said...


I made no such assumption.

Numerous examples exist of people who stuck their necks out without fear, regardless of the circumstances. Nelson Mandela for example.

In my opinion fear is the enemy, not circumstances.

That doesn't mean it isn't tremendously difficult given certain circumstances, but I think the principle still holds.