Illegitimi Non Carborundum

Maybe you have no clue what that means. It is a mock-Latin aphorism that means, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Almost 10 years ago, in the thick of a rather large change initiative I felt like I was swimming naked in a shark infested pool after being lathered in pig blood. (There’s an image for ya!) The point being, everywhere I turned I felt I was under attack on some level.

Sometimes the attacks were about the credibility of the approach. Other times, it was about the soundness or applicability or relevance of the research. Then there were ethical debates (as if somehow housing homeless people is unethical). Then there were the critiques of process. Oh, and concerns about communication strategy. And for good measure there were some personal attacks too.

I am open to criticism and feedback and suggestions on alternate approaches to doing things…when they are credible. What I quickly came to learn is that the attacks had more to do with a resistance to change than anything else.

One of the most talented people I have ever worked with, Toby, had a way of helping me get perspective when all of this was going on. He introduced me to “illegitimi non carborundum”. And I have never looked back. It is, perhaps, the best advice I have ever received in how to manage complex change processes.

If there are multiple lines of attack deploying various methods, I have seen over and over again that a change process can get scuttled. I have seen it when communities try to change their shelter system to be more housing based. I have seen it when there are approaches to changing funding to focus on interventions that work. I have seen it when Boards have been going through renewal processes. I have seen it when communities try to implement common assessment and coordinated access. I have seen it when it is suggested that prioritization occur to focus on those with deeper needs.

I have seen great leaders brought to ruin because the bastards were able to grind them down.

I think part of successful change is attitude. Well equipped with data and information provides the change leader confidence. A well-developed work plan that has transparent objectives and accountability measures built in goes a long way. Clear communication without side bar or backdoor conversations that interfere with the broader message is critical.

But above all else the change leader (or those closest to them) needs to say “illegitimi non carborundum”. Rise above the crap. Wear them out. Grind them down. Get to the place where the change can really matter.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong