As I advanced in my career I learned this lesson. The higher I got the more I felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. That did not mean I was in the wrong role, wrong company or wrong level. It meant I knew I spoke and thought differently than other people at my level AND that is exactly why I needed to stay there. I was the one person in the room who thought and executed ideas differently than everyone else. It is the reason I advanced.
It is one thing to look differently, it is another thing to act differently. It is entirely a different thing when you THINK differently. Diversity is about everyone being represented at the table, it is about having people in the room who think and voice their opinions that are different than everyone else in the room. It might sound strange but it is possible to have a demographically diverse room that all think the same. I’ve seen it and the limitations of the group are astonishing. If no one has the courage to hold a different opinion then no one is really needed in the room except one person because everyone thinks and talks the same.
I worked for a CEO who liked to be challenged, or at least he said he did. He would throw out an idea and ask our thoughts. For my first few Senior Management Team meetings I sat there quietly wondering if he was honestly seeking a different opinion. When I learned that he did, most of the time, I spoke up and quickly became his go to person for alternatives and implementations. I learned a great deal quickly and soon outgrew the room. In this case being different advanced me farther than any other trait.
We all need the gift of being challenged. We all need someone to help us critically think through our ideas, our concerns and our inner dialogue. It is a service we need and we need to be able to provide to others. I only have two friends who REALLY do this with me, for me, and I do it for them as well. It is the best gift they can provide AND their opinions – sometimes a square peg in a round hole – help me round off my edges or defend my ideas to a point of further success. IF you do not have these kinds of friends, find them quickly. They are the best gift you will ever be given.