The Self-Healing Powers of The Organisation – don’t take yourself too seriously!

What is it that links F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Dame Margot Fonteyn? All, I’m sure amongst others, have been accredited with a quote to the effect of “Take your job seriously, not yourself”. In other words, at the workplace, it’s what you do not who you are that impacts and influences your colleagues.

When you move on from an organisation do it with grace regardless of circumstances. Over the years I have seen some many people leaving organizations in states of the highest dudgeon or under the lowest cloud, convinced to the core that the company will rue the day it let them go. And, the company never, ever does.” />

No matter how big the ‘wound’, real or imaginary, organisations have a remarkable capacity for self-healing; life goes on. Sure, there are a few hiccups, as self-important clients complain at losing their favoured executive (as if it was that executive and their existence alone that was the sole source of the company’s offering). And, in a token of support, a couple even switch to other suppliers.

But then, there are always new clients to win, they don’t know the recent departee from Adam, so those losses are short term and often a blessing in disguise; as a business you want customers loyal to what you do not to whom you employ. Many of these disgruntled departees would do well to heed the words of the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns “Oh what a gift it would be if we could see ourselves as others see we”. As their weaknesses and shortcomings will no longer be inflicted on the company and its staff, there is actually an upside, which comes as a pleasant surprise to those carrying on the good work.

I learnt a useful lesson, most elegantly illustrated, on this very subject early in my career from my first boss.

During one of our lunchtime sessions, around 18 months into my tenure, he related a tale to me and few of my peers. We were generally full of self-confidence having had a good start to our careers and were all looking forward to a successful future as recognized players in the MR industry. One of us even postulated how much she’d be worth the competition. Looking back on it, that was a bit disrespectful, as many of our advances were down to the first class training we were receiving from my boss and his colleagues.

Anyway, partly in response to my colleague’s comment, my boss turned to me and said “Young man, if you were to leave the company tomorrow, do you want to know how much you’d be missed?” “Er, yeah… OK,” I replied, trying to sound nonchalant. “Well”, he said “Let me explain. First, take a bucket and fill it with lukewarm water up to around an inch from the top. Then, clasp your hands together. Tightly, mind. Plunge them slowly into the water as far as the wrist, no deeper. Next, pull them out as quickly as you can and look at the size of the hole that is left. That’s how much you’ll be missed!”

Of course, no individual is vital, and no company worth its salt (and worth working for) can adopt a policy of under-valuing the experience and IP inherent in their key players. Companies who see their employees as disposable resources display a lack of judgment as much as the “indispensable” executive shows a deficit of humility. That may be a topic for another post but, as a general observation, organisations can always absorb the departure of staff, regardless of stature, and usually in inverse proportion to what any individual may think of him- or herself.


3 Responses to The Self-Healing Powers of The Organisation – don’t take yourself too seriously!


    Great article and , sadly, I think you are right! Hope all is well.

    • David McCallum says:

      Thanks Johan, Good to hear from you – but no need to get too sad, after all, the message is not to take it too seriously – life goes on!

      Regards David McCallum

  2. Dai Harris says:

    Agree…a boss of mine once said very similar things, i.e. “Nobody’s indispensable”, and over a period of a few years I watched people (some of them very competent) come and go, and the College carried on quite successfully. I’ve tried to look at my own career and contributions to my current workplace through the same reality filter. No matter how valuable I might think I am, if I left tomorrow I know they’d carry on without me – but I’d like to think that I’ve made contributions to the systems, processes and products of the organisation which would make it EASIER for them to do so. That is, some of my ideas and approaches are now incorporated into what we do every day…

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