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

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Photo: @jamieinemo at Instagram

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

Scores of valuable lessons are learned through our experiences. In some cases, they emerge as topic gaps. For example, a course entitled “consulting for success” was not a part of my curriculum. (It should have been.) In other cases, the guidance is shared, but delivered far too early — as we require a certain breadth of experience to comprehend its importance. (Only maturity brings this.)

Ultimately, we discover many of these vital lessons on our own.

On some occasions, just in the nick of time. On other occasions, that timing is not as fortunate.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned with 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 and from meetings.) Normally stoic, on this particular day she was uncharacteristically open, “In this organization you need to learn to leave your personal life at the door. Remember that, Marla.”, as she huffed out of the elevator. As the doors closed, I was so struck by her admission that 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 encountered work life problems. 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 pain experienced as tendons stretch to accommodate bone growth. I’ve also realized that organizations and careers paths, suffer from a similar dynamic. As individuals & organizations approach important inflection points, they must stretch to meet the challenge. This can become quite uncomfortable. My role is to help them through it.
  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 establish for ourselves and seek, actually begin to hold us back. This happens when we see things one way — and cannot budge to see an alternative path. In some cases, it may be time to let the 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.

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

  1. Just know that you might be “in the flow” and it may be disruptive in some way to others. A dose of self-awareness + transparency should protect you. However, if in doubt ask. Pay attention to functions dissimilar to your own.

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  2. One critical piece that i learned early on that made me successful but not necessarily promotable;
    -Invest time with the people doing the work, not just the executive leadership team.
    I built a network of people within my organizations that allowed me to know what i could/could not do. I would engage my Supply Chain Team, Demand Planners in the same manner i would our VP’s. This gave me the “really really” and oftentimes when tasks seemed impossible, these same people went the extra mile for me that they may not do for others.

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  3. Hi Marla,
    I enjoyed reading your article.:-)
    My coaching and executive placement practice believe in the foundation of improving one’s emotional intelligence.
    I define “authentic connection” as consciously empowering a value you have in common with another at the same time. When working from a value that is disconnected, work is hard and less productive.
    I think that is your point, being stuck in a value formula that is either disconnected from yourself or another. 😉
    Best Wishes
    Barney

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  4. 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.

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  5. 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.

    Murray

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