It might be easy to assume that because we are in the middle of a Presidential Election Cycle that encouraging you not to drink the Kool Aid is about not believing all the spin generated by the campaigns or the national media. While this would certainly fit the scenario, drinking the Kool Aid also refers to accepting what you are told by anyone no matter what you personally believe.
In the corporate world, there are a lot of managers who believe their personal power comes from their ability to influence others to think and act a certain way. When an employee questions the thinking of these kinds of managers or even just the validity of the statements, all hell can break out. So to keep the peace, employees learn to drink the Kool Aid to avoid conflicts.
Now enter someone like me. I’ve never been a Kool Aid drinker. I don’t like the actual beverage, and I don’t follow the crowd well. I feel I have a brain for a reason, and along with using it to keep my body functioning, I use it to think about what is said to me. When something is untruthful, deceptive, or manipulative, I have never been one to go along to keep the peace. Has this made my life difficult, you bet!
I worked for a company once that drinking water, when the Kool Aid was being served, didn’t earn one the necessary points to succeed. I had a boss that was constantly trying to get me to play the game, drink up, and serve the Kool Aid. I was a constant frustration to this man because my work provided “valuable success to the company” but my inability to drink what was being served was creating problems. It was when he linked my desire to drink water rather than Kool Aid to “not being a team player”, that I resigned.
I am about to celebrate 26 years in the learning development profession. I was asked by an individual that wants to move out of human resources into training full-time, what is the one thing I would recommend he learn how to do. For some reason I blurted out, “Never Drink the Kool Aid” because it often is hiding the real issues that are preventing optimal performance. Our jobs in training are about preparing people to perform their job, and if we are not in touch with reality, we cannot prepare them to succeed. We would be missing vital skill development if we are not basing all decisions on what is real.
Bottom line, it won’t be easy at times to avoid drinking the Kool Aid, but you will earn your own self-respect, and the respect of others that need you to be rooted in reality. As an example, it was once the calling of the national media to be the voice of reality because people wanted the truth. I am betting that people need you and your profession to also be honest a truthful. The only reason that Kool Aid is being served is because we have people willing to drink it. Maybe it is time we all switch to a glad of water the next time we are thirsty.