Be Proud of YOU — Being “Different” Enhances Your Work and Leadership

If you’ve always felt a little different, or maybe not “normal” (whatever that means), you may think you can’t fully be yourself at work, like you have to pretend to be someone else or “tone down” your personality in order to be accepted into the company fold.

This is the perfect time, during Pride month, to explore being proud of your uniqueness. We can learn from our LGBTIQ+ colleagues how to command equal opportunity, treatment and respect in the workplace, as they have dared to be different and have driven change, opening the door for all of us to be our true selves at work. Our LGBTIQ+ colleagues have done, and continue to do, the hard work of pushing culture change internally that was desperately needed (for this alone we owe our gratitude and allyship).

What Constitutes “Different”

Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash

Photo by Meritt Thomas

Regardless of our differences we are all the same — we share the human experience and when you boil the superficialities down, we have similar purposes and goals. So what do I mean by “different”?

Maybe you have a sexual preference or gender orientation that isn’t like most of those around you. Or you come from a background that isn’t typical — you or your parents are immigrants, or you grew up on the other side of the world and you’re working in a mostly homogenous culture. Or perhaps you are a person of color in a very white atmosphere, or a woman working in a mostly male industry. There can be class, religion, education, physical ability, neurological make-up — the possibilities are endless — but the matter at hand is that you just don’t feel like you fit in and may never be fully accepted. Especially if you were openly the rarity that you are.

But what if I told you that having a different experience, or feeling this way, actually makes you a better leader — and that being yourself makes you a stronger, happier and more engaged employee? Research has shown people are happier at work when they can be themselves. And of course a happy leader makes a happy direct report.

First, Get Real with Yourself

We sometimes have to stop and ask ourselves questions in order to set up a framework for better living and working. Designing a better career and lifestyle starts with you. So ask yourself, are you being authentic? Are you bringing your whole self into work? If you could really be “you” at work, who would that be — how would your behaviors, expectations and personality change? Which relationships would grow, or retreat, based on your authenticity?

We avoid taking the step to being open about who we are because we just feel so different from our peers. We don’t quite fit in, or agree with their views, or maybe we are simply not what is considered “normal.” We’re taught that being different can mean ostracism, bullying, rejection and even dismissal. But when we hide who we are, or aren’t confident in our uniqueness, we are doing ourselves a disservice and are not giving others a chance to really get to know us and learn from us.

You’ll Be a Better Leader

Being uncommon or having a unique point of view makes you consider others’ opinions easily. You are typically more empathetic, flexible, adaptive. Why? Because you don’t come from a righteous position — self-doubts are built in from asking yourself often, “Am I doing something I will be judged for?” or “Am I fitting in?”

Having this introspection as part of your personality, and having the experience of embedding other’s point of views into your own, enables you to listen to others with more humanity and humility. Being capable of hearing others’ ideas and understanding the humanity behind them makes leaders more equipped to support their teams, creates a more open atmosphere and encourages innovation and adaptability.

When you’re hearing perspectives from backgrounds other than your own, you’re more closely linked to your external audience and customers and creating an organization that will shape its offerings to match. It is clearly a win-win in terms of corporate culture, and with consumer-centricity.

Take great pride in being different. It makes you a better leader!

What if You’re Not “Different,” How Can You Support Those Who Are?

Being aware that you are similar to those around you, and perhaps come from a position of privilege, is very helpful to those who aren’t. Acknowledging that not everyone thinks like you or shares your background, and that may create an atmosphere where they don’t feel comfortable speaking up, is an important step towards supporting them.

As a leader, you can create an atmosphere where all participate and can be honest in their opinions and suggestions. Active listening, asking questions from those who don’t often speak up and encouraging all team members to do the same can be a game-changer.

Encourage your people to be themselves, to bring their WHOLE selves to work, not just the part that fits in a narrow frame-work of what is “normal” or “acceptable” or “the majority” — because being authentic and basing your approach from your heart and soul creates a richer experience for all!

If you need help with becoming more authentic as a leader, or how to create a more inclusive and diverse atmosphere amongst your team, please reach out to me directly. I can help you emerge and find your own voice, and grow your internal strength and resolve to come out of your shell and confidently be you. I also help teams grow stronger and more unified in their voice, by encouraging everyone to be themselves. Contact me to find out more.

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