Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition

“NO-body expects the Spanish Inquisition. Our chief weapon is surprise. Surprise and fear. Fear and surprise, and ruthless efficiency” ~ Monty Python’s Flying Circus.


I received some interesting reactions to the last post. You’ll recall it was a review of Jenny Blake’s book Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One. A few folks wrote to tell me that the piece was timely, as they had just lost their jobs. In fact, one asked, “Did you write this with me in mind?”

A commonality among those who wrote was they weren’t expecting to lose their jobs. They had some inkling that things were stressed in their organization, but they didn’t expect that outcome.

Two of the more interesting examples involved colleagues of mine – fellow career coaches. One worked for a university graduate school. His function was eliminated as organizations within the industry were providing career counseling for their employees – his clients. Thus, his services were no longer required at the institution.

The other was a friend who was fired over a disagreement with her boss, the owner of the career development firm she worked for. My friend and her boss disagreed over the direction of the company, which was struggling. My friend was the COO of the company, but the CEO’s vision trumped her’s, and she was asked to leave.

Both of these folks were seasoned in their careers. They loved their work and, for the most part, the organizations they worked for. They were not prepared to lose their jobs over the challenges faced by their organizations. It wasn’t that they were in denial; they just didn’t foresee that outcome. As one mentioned, “I never thought I’d have to learn this lesson at my age.”

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition – My Story

If you’re not familiar with the Monty Python comedy sketch, Google it and check it out. It’s become a classic Internet meme often used in reference to unexpected circumstances.

As I replied to the responses to the Pivot review, I thought back on my own career and times when the Spanish Inquisition metaphor reared its unexpected head.

One of the most surprising examples was about 15 years ago. I was in an entirely different career, working as the lead policy advisor to a regional group of local governments. We were addressing exciting issues that would have long-term impacts on the region; and I was at the forefront, advising and influencing key local elected officials. I loved the job and expected to spend the rest of my career with the organization.

Within a short timeframe, two of the three top staff leaders of the organization retired. A new executive director was hired who was more my contemporary. I was excited to begin working with him to bring about significant and vital change to the region and to the organization.

However, it was hard for me to connect with the new director. We were the same age, had the same outlook for what should occur with our clients – the local elected officials we served; we even had the same sense of humor. But for some reason, I never felt on solid ground with him. We never really clicked. I was frustrated and concerned, but I stuck it out. I told myself I had invested too much in the organization and needed to see how it would play out.

I soon realized that “it would play out” by me being fired.

I wasn’t fired. I found a new job, but it wasn’t a good fit and I left within a year. Then I landed a consulting role with a friend’s start-up organization, which was a much better fit. However, within two years, that organization struggled for funding and couldn’t afford me anymore. It was my last job in the public sector.

It took me awhile to get over that unexpected departure from the initial organization. I left in my 50s and had spent my entire career in public sector organizations. I knew my way around them. I considered myself quite adept at working within them. Moreover, I had a strong reputation with the local elected officials I worked with. But for some reason, I couldn’t make it work with the new director. I finally came to the conclusion, that there was nothing I could do to change his perception of me. I could ride it out and be fired, or I could find something new.

In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise, for it led – in a circuitous route – to the career I love today – coaching people who want to raise the bar for themselves in their careers, their organizations or their communities.

As a side note, it wasn’t the last “unexpected Spanish Inquisition” I’ve encountered.

How About You?

So, how about you? Have you experienced an unexpected Spanish Inquisition, an event that altered your career or your life? How did you handle it? What did you learn from the experience?

Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.


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