20 Lessons Learned from Work

As I have recently given up the day job for good, I have begun to reflect on the period of my life spent in full-time employment and what I feel I have learned from it. In this post, I would like to share some of those insights.

Every one of the following lessons has been learned as a direct result of my own personal experience over many years of persistent effort. How I wish I had understood some of these important lessons much sooner but, I guess we all need to learn in our own time. That said, perhaps the following list might help some people who are right now in positions of management or leadership within their own organizations.


Here’s what I feel the experience taught me:

1. The person who is the loudest and most confident may be the easiest to hear and the most natural to follow, but that does not mean to say that he has the right answers.

2. When someone appears to take you into their confidence, it does not necessarily mean that a bond of trust has been established between the two of you.


3. Discretionary effort can be very easily lost and a culture of compliance can be much more easily established within the workplace than many managers really understand.

4. There are always two conversations: the one you can hear and the sub-text.

5. Other people don’t think like you, they don’t necessarily share your values and they don’t make judgments in the same way as you.


6. Few people have learned how to really listen to others despite the fact that they think they have, and those that do listen are inclined to do so from a judgemental perspective rather than an empathic one.

7. There is a big difference between head knowledge and tactic knowledge. Head knowledge is easy to acquire but rarely changes behavior.

8. Your own view, no matter how well thought out you think it is, is flawed. You can learn a little about how it is flawed by listening to the right people, in the right way.

9. Everyone will have an opinion despite the fact that, in many situations, most people are not properly qualified to give one.

10. Difficult people are there to help you learn what is wrong with your own interpersonal skills.

11. Leadership is not a job, but an important role that anyone in the organization with enough vision and persistence can fulfill.

12. Most people do not have enough strength of character to admit they made a mistake and so will go to extraordinary lengths to compensate for their own bad decisions.

13. You should never ignore office politics. Always bear in mind that you are very often dealing with people who have a certain amount of influence over an established network of their own informal contacts.

14. Never allow your life to get out of balance. Always bear in mind that the organization owes you nothing that is not specified in your contract of employment.

15. If you ask for something and your request is refused, bide your time and try again on another occasion. Sometimes it is not the idea that is at fault, but the timing.

16. No matter what their attitude, always do your level best to understand your colleagues.

17. When your work becomes very easy for you to accomplish and it no longer stretches you, it is time to seek a new challenge, not necessarily elsewhere.

18. When you can no longer act as an agent for positive change within your organization, then perhaps it may be time for you to leave.

19. When you feel you can no longer give your absolute best to the company, the time has definitely come for you to leave.

20. Always part on good terms.