5 Unexpected Things I’ve Learned About People, Work & Organizations

Photo: @jamieinemo at Instagram

What we need to know about our line of work — can never be conveyed completely in a classroom setting.

Most of us find that scores of valuable lessons are learned through our experiences. In some cases there are simply topic gaps. For example, a course entitled “consulting for success” was not a part of my curriculum, but it should have been. In other cases the guidance or advice is shared, but delivered far too early, as we require a certain breadth of experience to comprehend its importance.

Ultimately, we discover many of these vital lessons on our own. On some occasions, we realize just in the nick of time. On other occasions, we may not be quite as fortunate.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned over time:

  1. No matter how driven or successful, work cannot be corralled into a neat, confined space.
    Early in my career, I was caught in an elevator with the most senior level employee in my department. (Her office was just a stone’s throw from mine and I would only see her breezing to meetings.) Normally stoic, on that particular day she was uncharacteristically candid, “In this organization you need to learn to leave your personal life at the door. Remember that, Marla.” She then huffed out of the elevator. As the doors closed, I was so struck by her admission I forgot to exit. I realized years on, that work affects us broadly — because of its central importance in the operation of our everyday lives. Work-life balance is really more of an integration challenge. Moreover, when an organization ignores this fact, undo pressure and stress often develop. Everyone loses, as she likely felt in that moment.
  2. Never make assumptions about people how people feel about their work.
    I left school believing that my training and reasoning skills, could help me solve most of the work life problems that I encountered. However, that belief was inherently flawed. Over time, I came to realize that the true nature of someone else’s experience, isn’t obvious. The only way to gain access and understand that perspective, is to develop a trusting relationship and inquire. True feelings and dynamics are often shrouded — and leading with curiosity is vital.
  3. Growing pains aren’t just for kids. They apply to work life as well.
    My father was a family physician, so I was well versed concerning the pains experienced as tendons stretch to accommodate bone growth. I’ve also realized that organizations and careers paths, suffer from this dynamic as well. As individuals & organizations approach important inflection points, they must stretch to meet the challenge. This can become very uncomfortable.
  4. Goals which once motivated us, can also trip us up.
    If you’ve ever been stuck trying to force your way forward, you may have experienced this issue. Sometimes the goals that we seek, actually begin to hold us back. This happens when we see things one way — and cannot budge to see an alternative path. In this case, it may be time to let that goal go.
  5. Authenticity isn’t always a good thing.
    I’ve worked with more than one individual, whose authentic “brand” or work style, literally stood in the way of progress. I’m not referring to awful people, who fail to possess concern for their employees or colleagues. I’m speaking of talented, kind individuals who have a working style or flow, that happens to affect others adversely. When made aware of how their quirks derailed others, they are usually horrified. (Know yourself and how you work best. But, also build awareness of how that might impacts others. If you aren’t completely sure — ask.)

Work life is a journey.

If approached with the right mindset, it is also a non-stop learning experience.

What have you learned about work life that was unexpected? Share in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

2 thoughts on “5 Unexpected Things I’ve Learned About People, Work & Organizations

  1. Of course, transparency is an excellent addition to a leadership brand. I’m referring to elements of how we work — our process — that could cause problems for others. In some cases, people are making adjustments for us and we are completely unaware.


  2. Marla…all fabulous points! Could you flesh out #5 a little more. This one is loaded. My wife & I are very transparent people. This has worked to our advantage, especially in the area of trust with no hidden agenda. But perhaps we’ve missed something.



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