There are generally two kinds of people who inhabit organizations: those that are there to earn a paycheck and those that are there to make a difference.

This post is targeted to those who want to make a difference, because they have the hardest time leaving an organization behind. Ironically, the reason why they find it hard to leave has to do with their greatest strength: a strong sense of responsibility to the organization. These people made a commitment to make a difference and it’s very hard for them to admit defeat.

Still, it’s better to admit that the organization is making it impossible for you to make a difference instead of burning yourself out by becoming a martyr to the cause. You haven’t been defeated and you’re not a failure. Sometimes organizations become so dysfunctional and stupid that they refuse to listen to any input that doesn’t validate the self-destructive course they’ve chosen to follow. Here’s how to tell when an organization is on that course so you can take your valuable talents elsewhere, to a place that will appreciate what you have to offer:

  1. It’s impossible to get a straight answer from anyone. Top leadership becomes secretive and starts speaking in unintelligible code. Your colleagues think carefully about what they’re going to say before they say it, and what comes out is full of hints, suggestions and innuendos because everyone’s afraid that telling the truth will get them into hot water. Conversations are conducted in whispers and occur behind closed doors. Resistance cells form, but instead of challenging the process publicly, they live a meager existence sharing rumors and speculation with trusted dissidents. People are terrified of making a mistake, so there’s extensive cover-up activity and finger-pointing to divert people away from the truth.
  2. You feel that you’re fighting more frequently for things that should be obvious to anyone. No one has told you that things have changed, so you keep generating ideas to make things better. Now, however, your ideas are met with surprising resistance from colleagues who used to be open-minded but whose fear has led them to play it safe. What’s happened is that your colleagues have correctly perceived that the environment is becoming more political and exclusive while you’re still working under the assumption that the environment is apolitical and inclusive. The final stage of this sad transition is when you hear that people are labeling you a troublemaker or a “pain in the ass.” If you hear someone telling you that you’re not a team player, what they probably mean is that you’re not cut out to be an obedient, compliant team member, which makes you a “problem child.”
  3. You think you’re right and everyone else is wrong. One possibility is that the organization is simply moving in a different direction and you either don’t perceive that or are in denial about it because you were happy with the way things were. Whatever the cause, if you find yourself constantly arguing for what was, you really need to consider the possibility that the problem is you simply don’t want to play under the new rules and it’s time to go somewhere more compatible with your values.
  4. You’re excluded from certain groups and people stop coming to you for input on matters that involve your area of expertise. If you find yourself frequently surprised by decisions that have been made without your involvement, what is likely happening is that people have chosen to work around you rather than with you. It could be because they don’t have the courage to give you honest feedback; it could be that they know that you won’t like the idea and don’t want to deal with opposition; or it could be that they’re hoping you’ll get the hint and move on. For whatever reason, the people in power have decided that you are not part of the future, and either don’t have the courage to tell you or they feel your functional job talents are useful but don’t value your ideas.
  5. The organization is operating more out of fear than intent. All of these signals indicate an organization that is likely running on fear rather than intelligent strategy. Leadership doesn’t know what it’s doing but can’t admit it for fear of losing face. Instead, they begin suppressing the truth and begin classifying people into two camps: those who are willing to maintain the conspiracy of silence and those who can’t be trusted to keep the cover-up going. When the organization starts acting more like a victim of its environment and stops experimenting with new ideas, it creates a very difficult environment for a person who wants to make a difference.

As a great philosopher once said, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Often when faced with these circumstances, we blame ourselves and our self-confidence withers. Rid yourself of such nonsensical thinking. Strong organizations encourage diverse thinking and face reality. If you’re truly trying to make a difference in the world, you deserve to work for an organization with enlightened leadership that isn’t afraid of either new ideas or the truth.

Go find one and be happy!

© Mgvuvan | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos


About Bob Mendonsa

Bob Mendonsa is an experienced, engaging facilitator with over twenty years of experience delivering and designing leadership and organizational development programs at all organizational levels in a wide range of industries. Bob’s body of work also includes significant experience in team building, human resources and assignments as the top HR/OD executive at three different companies.

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