What You Believe About How the Organization Works is WRONG

If you are the CEO-Founder of the organization, nothing I’m going to say applies to you.  If you are anyone else, it probably does.  We all have beliefs about how organizations work.  For the most part, at least some of these beliefs are myths.

organization mythsSome Typical Myths:

  • If you work hard, you will be rewarded.
  • Organizations are meritocracies.
  • Leaders Are Heroes.
  • The more hours you put in, the more you will be rewarded.
  • Organizations are families.
  • This organization is better (than all others).
  • I have unlimited potential.
  • The organization will recognize what I do.
  • I am irreplaceable.
  • If I just do a good job, I can ignore organizational politics.
  • Younger employees have more potential than older employees.
  • Older employees are more wise than younger employees.
  • If I work hard enough and do a good job, my career will take care of itself.

But, you say, (some of) “these are true!”  Or, “I don’t believe any of those.”  That’s the thing about myths–they exist as myths or truths in the eye of the beholder.  And they are powerful enough to control your behavior, if not your life.  A myth is only a myth if it isn’t reality.  (Yeah, I know–what the heck did that mean?)

Whose Reality Is It?

I started this post with the statement that if you are the CEO-Founder this doesn’t apply to you.  If you are the CEO-Founder of your organization, then your beliefs are the reality of the organization.  Everyone else’s beliefs are the myths.  Of course everyone has some beliefs that are true (and therefore reality), such as if  ‘I get to work on time, I won’t get in trouble for being late’.  Hmm, even this is not “true” in some organizations.  I used to work in an organization where the official start time was 8am, but the expected start time was more like 7am.  Why?  Because that is what leadership thought was indicative of a motivated, productive, successful workforce.  It is critically important to understand what the top of your organization believes about how organizations work, and how that is different from what you believe.

We come to our beliefs about how things work through a circuitous route.  Our parents drill things into our head.  Work hard, you will be rewarded with grades. (Lesson–effort leads to reward)  Our teachers reinforce beliefs.  You can do anything you want to do. (Lesson–unlimited potential)  Our coaches add to it.  Always get the ball to Russell; whatever you do, get the ball to Kevin!  (Lesson–irreplaceability)  These lessons stick in our minds and we begin to apply them to other venues.

By the time we get to our first jobs, they are pretty much set.  As a coach, I work with people helping them understand the unwritten rules in their organizations.  The reason people struggle so much with this, is that these “rules”–the accumulated “realities” of leadership over the years–don’t match their own “rules.”  And it makes no sense.  When you put in long hours and you aren’t rewarded and appreciated for it, you get disillusioned and angry.  What you don’t understand is that the person(s) in charge believes that it is results that count and effort in and of itself is irrelevant.

Interestingly, as I have started working with more men who work in woman-run organizations, they are finding themselves with the same problem–the “rules” make no sense to them.  Why should we “talk” about it?  Let’s just DO it.  Who cares if we have a consensus?  (Not that I’m saying these “rules” apply to all female run organizations–these are examples I’ve encountered).

It Is Hard

It is REALLY hard to let go of your beliefs.  They are tightly wound with how you derive your sense of personal value.  If you find yourself angry at work a lot–angry at not being appreciated, at not being valued, at not being rewarded, you need to look deeply at how you believe things should work.  Then you need to look–really look–at evidence that it is true in your organization.  Look hard for what the organization’s leadership believes about how things work.  How is it different?  Don’t dismiss these differences.  (Remember, however, that leadership is likely to be in the same boat to some extent about their own beliefs, unless they founded the company.)


Experiment with reframing your communications to match the beliefs of those who evaluate you.  If you think results are most important, but your boss talks about effort–communicate your results AND the effort it took to get them.  If your boss thinks she is irreplaceable, decide whether you want to frame communications in terms of that belief.  If you understand these beliefs and their impact on your work life, then it gives you more options and tools to improve your work experience and enhance your career.

. . . just sayin’


Filed under Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Leadership, Reframe

3 responses to “What You Believe About How the Organization Works is WRONG

  1. woody zelig

    Thanks for your provocative column. While it is mostly accurate, permit me a disagreement. The CEO/Founder is often the one MOST out of touch with the organization and how it works. Why? Because the CEO sees the world through “rose colored glasses.” The CEO wonders why others can’t get things done. When the CEO asks for a report, it materializes the next day. When you’re the CEO, “seldom is heard, a discouraging word…”

    Here’s a short list of responses heard by people in the organization that the CEO almost never hears:
    “Sorry, that’s not my department.”
    “He’s in a meeting and will get back to you. (Is never soon enough?)
    “Sorry, it’s not in my list of deliverables (or what I get a bonus for.)
    “I’ll see if I can fit it into my schedule.” (and still leave at 5 PM every day.)

    The point I’m trying to make is that the CEO/Founder wields so much power that she/he needs to be especially vigilant not only to determine how the company SHOULD work but also to make sure it works that way for EVERYONE, and not just for the CEO.

    Pardon this outburst…it’s been festering a while…

    • Woody,

      I totally agree that CEO’s don’t necessarily “get” what’s going on in their organization and DO need to be especially vigilant to uncover their blind spots. I think their blind spots come from a different place from us non-CEOs, though. Both are significant and interfere with the organization’s effectiveness.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Pingback: Who Are You And How Did You Get That Way? | Jo McDermott

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