For those whose color, creed, cultural background, or gender differ from others in a workplace, standing out has never been the issue. It's the fitting in that can be a challenge. As leaders, we have the most impact when we define our success, creating a portrait of our authority and authenticity. But this rendering can only be confirmed in person, when you're at the table. If you're feeling like an outsider, here are three steps that will help you take your seat there.
Acknowledge Reality, And Take Advantage Of It
Due to circumstances beyond our control, others may start at the 200M mark of a 400M race. Even worse, we’re running in ill-fitting, bargain-bin track shoes and our coach showed up late to the meet. To catch up you may need to prepare longer and run faster. Because you started with less, you may need to sacrifice more. Upfront, make a decision to do more with less: Nothing else will cut it.
I do believe that there is an advantage in every disadvantage. The blind man hears what others miss and the person who can't speak knows that looks can kill. Likewise, you must find the value in what you can offer. Take me, for example. I struggled to make friends in grade school, and soon developed a Take No Prisoners approach to relationships. If no one came up to me, then I would introduce myself to them. That tenacity and curiosity continues to serve me today, both professionally and personally. We must acknowledge our shortcomings and face them head on, to acknowledge our fears in order to overcome them.
Grow Attuned To Others' Interests
I am a bad golfer. Every time I swing the club I fear that either it or the ball will go flying in the wrong direction and, oftentimes, it does. Yet, that hasn’t stopped me from playing. Do I enjoy golf? Sort of. Could my weekends be spent engaging in more enjoyable activities? Probably. Are most people I play with better than me? Surprisingly no, and you know why? Because everyone is trying to fit a mold.
Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone fall in line and follow the leader, but you must play the game (literally and figuratively). If your boss likes soccer, maybe you should learn a thing or two leading up to the World Cup. If you’re invited to a nice dinner, don't be scared off by the endless line of tiny forks. Because we eat different foods, hang out at different venues, and socialize with different people, we are considered culturally incompatible and, therefore, unapproachable. Culture is just a fancy word for familiarity, and the only way to grow your understanding of a thing is to expose yourself to it. With time, you’ll find yourself more comfortable and others will be attracted to that confidence.
Offer Value To Others
Ultimately you want in, but what are you willing to put out? The irony is that, in order to obtain, you must relinquish. Whether its a perspective, relationship, or skill set, we all have access to tools, both tangible and intangible, that others may find useful. From the outside looking in, it’s your job to identify, communicate, and serve up that value. Otherwise, how are they to know what you have to offer and how they stand to benefit? In this world, you must give to get and the only way to infiltrate the interior is to offer something fresh, new, and distinct from what exists on the inside.
I will probably never be a scratch golfer. I’ll miss the shot more than I’ll make it, and I’ll have to op the ball a few times as I get closer to the green. That’s my way of leveling the playing field. You have within you all that's needed to succeed, but the world doesn’t always play fair. Admit that; learn how you operate; learn how it operates and offer up what only you can provide.
[Image: Flickr user CraigTaylor1974]