The Holy Grail of Workplace Advice from Monty Python

Jan 22, 2013
7 Min Read

I’ve always said there’s no holy grail of workplace advice because different things work for different people. But after viewing Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail for about the eighth time, it appears I may have to rethink that advice.

There are, I discovered, some pretty clear career truths that can be gleaned from coconuts, evil trolls and black knights….

1. Don’t let unnecessary distractions derail you. You may start work full of determination to get a job done. You know your goal and why it’s important and may not care exactly how you get there, as long as you get there. But then someone starts questioning your coconuts. As illustrated in this scene, a valiant mission is threatened by someone who seems to take delight into throwing a wrench in the works. How many times do you let such conversations or confrontations at work get you off track?


In “Comebacks at Work,” authors Kathleen Kelley Reardon and Christopher T. Noblet offer advice for anyone who needs to know what to say when they’re confronted with who they call the “puppeteer,” or the person who  likes to “lord power over others.”


“Sometimes the best way to deal with power like this is to wait to challenge it until absolutely necessary and to not appear rattled because this is exactly what some people hope to achieve,” they write. “As the sage advice goes: ‘If you show them your Achilles’ heel, they will surely kick it – another way of saying ‘Never let them see you sweat.’”


2. Be prepared. How many times have you gone into meetings, slouched in your chair and tried to surreptitiously check email on your smartphone while ignoring what is happening? Or, you stop paying attention to what the boss is saying about 30 minutes into what is proving to be a boring assessment of the last project? Not being prepared and not paying attention is what gets you cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril when you’re called upon by the ugly troll…er, the boss. You want to make sure that you’re on top of key issues or your level of influence may drop. Notice in this scene as those who are on top of their game and prepared are the ones to survive the Bridge of Death (otherwise known as the annual performance evaluation in some workplaces.)


3. Don’t be expendable. This scene of “bring out yer dead!” certainly evokes images of the workplace today. Don’t come up with innovative ideas? Aren’t known to collaborate? Don’t get along with other team members? You might just find yourself tossed out like dead wood. You’ve got to always be focused on how your contributions help the bottom line. There are now about three people for every job opening, and unemployment remains around 7.8%. You can bet the less-than-lively employees are in danger. Companies need energetic, results-oriented talent to remain competitive.  If I were you, I’d find a way to “feel better” real soon and start contributing more at work.

4. Know when to fight the good fight – and when to give up. One of the most difficult things is knowing when it’s time to cut your losses and move on. (“Cut your losses” takes on new meaning in this clip.) Perhaps you have a bully boss who won’t let up, or there’s no chance for advancement because it’s a family-owned business and the owner’s nephew is going to get the job you want. It can be difficult to realize that despite all your efforts and long hours, sometimes work isn’t fair. That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep your network strong, so that when the time comes for you to move on, you’re ready to go and have others willing to help you.

5. Be resilient.  Sometimes the workplace can be a little crazy. Ridiculous, even. You’re asked to do nonsensical stuff like find a shrubbery to please an important client. But bosses truly appreciate those who are resilient, who approach such scenarios with commitment and keep their sense of humor. Maintaining a sense of fun in the face of the knights who say “ni!” is one of the best ways to keep your stress under control and be seen as a valuable team member who helps others get through some truly nutty days.

For you Monty Python fans out there, any other career tidbits you want to offer?