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Jul 25th, 2022 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Der Fisch Stinkt Vom Kopf

The Germans have a strange, and probably very typical German, saying: Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf — the fish rots from the head.

I know, it’s gross. But it’s also true. Not just in a biological sense — as the brain is typically the first part of a decomposing fish to go smelly (you can thank me later for putting this image into your head), but also in the meta sense: Germans use this saying to describe the challenge that when the leadership inside an organization is dysfunctional (the proverbial head), the rest of the org follows.

I’ve been using this saying for a long time now — as a stark reminder that you can try as you might, if your manager/CEO/board isn’t aligned/bought in/supportive/understanding, you are fighting a lost battle.

Kudos to those who fight this fight — personally, I wouldn’t have it in me — but more often than not (unless the end of the era of this particular fish is in sight), you are fighting a lost cause.

If you find yourself in a fishy situation — my advice is usually to take a hard look if there is still something worth fighting for (as there might), and if not: Make your way to the exit (and do visit the gift shop on your way out).

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