What if you were bullet-proof?

A few weeks ago, Neil Morrison wrote a piece on the etiquette of resigning. The message, in short, was don’t get demob happy. Behave during your notice period as you would behave if you were still planning to be working there in a year’s time. So don’t start slagging off your employer, don’t throw sickies or take random days off and “put as much effort in on the last day as you put in on the first day”.

I’m proud to say that, throughout my career, I have pretty much held to all of Neil’s dos and don’ts apart, perhaps, from that final one. Some of my last days have involved a lot of alcohol at lunchtime which made putting in any effort at all somewhat difficult. But I agree with his general point.

It brought to mind a time when I was working in HR IT systems for a fairly large organisation. Even when I was under notice, I was working during the dark December evenings and even the odd weekend to make sure everything was in place for the sacred annual pay and bonus round.

It was then that a freelance IT chap I had been working with gave me one of the most incisive pieces of feedback I have ever had. He said:

You’ve been a hell of a lot more effective since you’ve been bullet-proof.


What he meant, of course, was that, having handed in my notice and secured a shiny new job, I was now beholden to no-one. I could say what I liked. Consequently, I had stopped pulling my punches and started telling it like it was. The organisation was very political but I no longer needed to play the political game and so no longer felt the need to finesse my language or say things in a politically acceptable way. Shorn of the mealy-mouthed corporate wordsmithing, my messages were clearer. As a result, people got them more quickly and acted on them, even if they didn’t like what they were hearing.

Which got me thinking. What if instead of, as Neil says, behaving on our last day as if it were our first, we behaved on our first day as if it were our last? This might sound scary to some people but most of us could probably get away with being a bit braver and blunter about what we say. Certainly, the larger public and private sector organisations have a certain amount of inbuilt protection from arbitrary management vindictiveness. The risks of telling it like it is are probably not as high as you think.

Since I had that feedback, I have taught myself to be that bit braver in uncomfortable situations. It doesn’t come easily to me as I am both lazy and cowardly. It’s worth it though. Often, when you ask ‘that question’ – you know, the one that everyone is thinking but daren’t ask – the rest of the team breathe a sigh of relief. It’s ‘that question’ that gets to the root of the problem. A lot of the time in business we talk about ‘elephants in rooms’ – if you were just about to leave the company you wouldn’t worry so much about pointing and saying, “Look at that bloody great elephant!”

Many of the people I know who get the best results in a corporate context differ from their colleagues only in their willingness to take the odd risk. They just have that little bit more nerve than everyone else. In short, they behave like I did when I thought I was bullet-proof.

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9 Responses to What if you were bullet-proof?

  1. John D says:

    No one can ever be wholly bullet proof but that feeling of being free and independent, and able to express yourself largely in any way you wish, can only come through true freedom and independence. I am now retired but I have always either worked solo or always ensured I was the most senior person in the outfit. I paid off my mortgage decades ago and my house is my home and no one else’s. My car is old and small but fully paid for. Largely speaking, I owe no one nothing. I can largely do what I like, say what I like and act as I like. Of course, as a civilized person in a civilized society, I realize fully that we all need to rub along so I observe most of the societal niceties. Still, I think many people often end up being owned by their possessions and the insatiable desire to be owned by even more possessions. Living a simple, enjoyable and sustainable lifestyle can confer that bullet proof feeling. As someone once said, we are all born free but are everywhere in consumerist chains – or something like it.

    • Lee says:

      Not really true…your house is on government land…they can technically seize your property if/when they see fit. And why does everyone talk about “doing what I like, say what I like…”…are you all @ssholes in real life? I act like “myself” 24/7….I don’t need to have nothing to lose to say what I feel or do something because my message isn’t totally intolerable.
      You people sound over 40 and from an extremely repressed generation.

  2. pwillcox says:

    Hi Rick,

    Great post and I love the message behind it. Life and therefore work would be so much simpler if everyone was confident and brave enough to say it as they see it. I dare say organisations would be more effective too.

    Thanks for a great post!

  3. Pingback: What if you were bullet-proof? - Rick - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  4. Juli says:

    I agree. As pwillcox notes, things ‘would be so much simpler if everyone was confident and brave enough to say it as they see it’. What is the point of individuality if it’s followed by compromising on one’s own sense of integrity and authenticity. “What if… we behaved on our first day as if it were our last?” – Because (deliberate cruelty and abuse aside) life is too short not to! I’m minded of how we love to hear what a former politician really thinks when he no longer has to toe the party line…. Great post, Rick!

  5. Juli says:

    I agree. The line between diplomatic cooperation and appeasement can be a tricky line to tread, especially if your livelihood depends on it. But then, what does an individual really gain by compromising integrity and authenticity? “What if… we behaved on our first day as if it were our last?” – Because (deliberate cruelty and abuse aside) life is too short not to! I’m minded of how we love to hear what a former politician really thinks when he no longer has to toe the party line…. Great post, Rick! (That’s what I meant to say…!)

  6. Jemma Taylor says:

    Feeling fearless at work feels great! Does it have to come after getting a new job though! I do feel that organisation or corporations are blamed a lot for their cut throat politics but that is because Individuals make the decisions and let themselves go free! the point is – once you do your work honestly , no one can touch you and base it on morality , no one can scare you either!

  7. Desiree says:

    This is so true. If you were to treat every workday as if it were your last, I think many of us would be much more productive. We would get things done faster, and more efficiently. If you’re brave enough to say what needs to be said, and get what needs to be done, done, everything would run so much more smoothly and you definitely feel as if you were bulletproof!

  8. Dave Foote says:

    I agree with the sentiment expressed, but have one caveat. If you wish to communicate the “truth” you must do it in a way that it can be heard by your audience..”Saying it like it is” is only one half of the communication event – hearing it is the other half!

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