One yellow duckling in a group of brown ducklings

I recently watched an excellent TEDx talk from Michael Segovia in which he shared his personal journey of accepting and celebrating his differences, both personally and professionally.

I reflected on my own personal differences and if there were times that I hid these, or whether I celebrated them.  I’m fortunate enough to be in an organisation where I truly can be myself and where all the employees are encouraged to do the same. It is something that benefits us not only internally, but is what our clients know us for and appreciate that we won’t try to behave in a pre-described norm.

That being said, prior to joining BRS, there were times when I felt myself pushing aside my differences to what was expected.  I’d just returned from living overseas and was figuring out what my next move would be.  I was adamant that I didn’t want to settle, but hadn’t really decided what I was aiming for!  I was asked to interview for a project role in a big corporate firm.  In hindsight, the alarm bells were already going off at this stage, as I wasn’t one who wanted to be in a (perceived) stuffy corporate environment. I didn’t own a suit, and had no plans in doing so!  I went along to the interview, my usual bubbly, extroverted, enthusiastic self and walked out thinking “Well, that went terribly – they didn’t seem to like me at all!  Oh well, I couldn’t really see myself working there anyway”.  The next day, I received a call from the recruiter saying that they really liked me, and would love me to come in and meet with the Senior Partner. I was shocked to say the least, but agreed, thinking that maybe I was just way off base with my interpretation of how it went. At the end of the conversations, the recruiter casually slipped in the words “And a word of advice, you might want to tone down your enthusiasm – it came across a bit too much and you’ll want to fit in”.

I went into that interview – very meekly, presented myself quietly and professional.  I may have even wore my hair in a sleek bun.  I wasn’t holding high hopes, as I was sure that they could see that I wasn’t being myself and it was all a big lie. In fact the Senior Partner looked bored and uninterested. I finished the interview, walked out and before I could even make it out of the car park, the recruiter was calling me to offer me the role.  After stammering that I’d need to get back to them and think about it, I quickly came to the conclusion that in no way was I myself in that interview and if that’s what they wanted – there is no way I would be happy doing that day in, day out.  My very next interview I stayed true to myself and every single one of those differences was why I was actually hired at BRS.

I then thought about the people that we work with, and realised that if my differences were my strengths, that our colleagues differences are more often than not their strengths as well.  That  person who sits 2 desks down from you who you just don’t get?  You don’t understand what they do, feel like their role in the organisation is to drive you crazy or make your life more difficult?  Possibly.  Or do they seem a bit out of place?  You should be glad that they don’t force themselves to mould to an expected norm that your organisation is one that encourage these differences and hires these differences in the first place.

Take a moment to think about the differences in your colleagues and how you approach these.  As a leader, you need to be not only aware of your differences and those of the people around you – but help them to celebrate them. Embrace them and find a way to work together.  You can easily do this by simply having an open conversation or by looking at a tool like the MBTI and seeing how your differences can work together.  As Michael said – “True leadership is about flexing to the needs of your followers – flexing to their differences”.

Michael Segovia’s TEDx talk on ‘Being Different…pain and joy’: