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#50 - Achilles' Heel

I was facilitating a group of very skilled professionals who were also very disillusioned about a major organizational transformation affecting each and every one of them.  The venting was necessary, actually long overdue. All the pent up frustrations of the last year were coming to the surface. They had lost the strong position they once held in the organization and were in danger of becoming obsolete. How could that be? Their skills were sorely needed!  Could no one else see how important their function was to the success of the enterprise?

The answer was not what they were hoping for.  The other parts of the organization had started to re-align themselves without them. Other groups were even rejoicing about their loss of status. They were now on the other side of the looking glass, lost and isolated. Some were getting ready to jump ship. Others were experiencing the effects of acute stress. A small group was moving forward and taking on new roles, experiencing a measure of success in the new world.

This scenario seems to repeat itself since Antiquity. A strong group, seemingly invincible, is toppled, having lost its relevance. A few survive and thrive, the rest struggle valiantly and then fall, hard.


Yes, things could have gone differently with a stronger focus on the human side of change in planning the transformation, i.e. thinking through the impacts on people and processes; involving cross-disciplinary teams in developing the new patterns of work; providing coaching and training to support individuals in acquiring new skills while transferring their own key skills to others; supporting people who needed to move on with career transitioning services.

The organization was now coming to this realization, bringing in the necessary resources to support affected groups and individuals, at the 11th hour.

But what about the individual’s responsibility in this often repeated debacle?

Why can’t so many of us see the writing on the wall?

Why such big blind spots in such bright people?

This is where I started to think about Achilles. A big invincible warrior felled by an injury to a small vulnerable part of his anatomy. Does our enterprise, our group, or do we personally have an Achilles' heel? Yes, most likely. What can we possibly do about it? If it were visible, we wouldn’t be vulnerable to it, would we?

One conclusion I’ve reached is that whatever skill we have, when overdone in a new context, is the very skill that could bring about our downfall. Our success is context dependent, and we forget this at our peril. What made you and I great in one environment may be a liability in another.

When is it time to move on, when is it time to change?  Some of the signs I have observed in myself and others:
  • I am preaching harder and harder… in the desert. My ideas are falling flat. No traction. A lot of effort for little results.
  • I am starting to lose my perspective and focus on what is missing, what is wrong… with the others.
  • I am spending more and more time with a small group of naysayers. Misery loves company. We commiserate over coffee, reinforcing each other’s feeling of being unrecognized, victimized.
  • I feel righteous, dogmatic. This is the best way, anything else is bastardization. No one can do it as well as I do or we do. Others are criticized for not knowing what we know or understanding what we are explaining to them so clearly.
  • I am unhappy, I feel trapped, I am losing my creative juices.
What I want instead:
  • Work that makes me want to start the computer in the morning.
  • Work that challenges me to think outside my box and capsulize my information, rejig, review, redo what I thought I knew for sure.
  • Spending time with people who are enjoying the work, have a sense of purpose and want to contribute.
  • Focussing on what works, what I/we can build on.
  • Working smarter, bringing traction to projects, utilizing my best skills….while knowing I will always need to develop other skills, for the rest of my life.
Next time, let’s remember the heel. Add up the signs and decide to either bow out gracefully, or accept the challenge of change.