Do you ever wonder if you are a little sideways of “normal” compared to coworkers or friends? Do you ever see something that others don’t? Or have a reaction that is different than others? Or want to go a different direction than the crowd? I do. Sometimes, when working on a project with a team, I have an idea that is in a different ballpark. Occasionally, I sense something that others don’t. And from time to time, I will speak up and ask questions that are uncomfortable. Depending on the group I am working with, this either goes well or it doesn’t. We either grow to new heights, or we have some level of conflict. Either way, being different can be difficult.
Some groups embrace new ideas and different perspectives, and even welcome conflict. In these groups, there is a level of trust and transparency with one another and ideas flow freely. Debate and argument focuses on ideas and how to achieve group goals. The focus of debate is rarely people. I feel liberated and alive in these settings. This is something I experience with my LeadStrategic colleagues, Robert and Greg. I also experience this with most of my clients (essentially, it’s what they pay me to do). Unfortunately, these groups are not the norm.
Other groups tend to muzzle people who are different. They squelch ideas that challenge the status quo, interject mind-stretching perspectives, or question processes and core values. In these groups, I often feel like I’m in a “Whack-a-mole” game, but I’m not the one holding the mallet! My reaction in these settings is to triangulate the group’s sense of normalcy and to fit in—for a while. I don’t last long in these groups. I play nice for a while, so as not to burn bridges, but I watch for the next opportunity to exit.
Nevertheless, it is still uncomfortable and I often begin to wonder if I am the odd man. I question my own sensibilities and doubt my ability to contribute to the group. That reaction is understandable, but when I begin to question my value, I am going too far.
I’ve discovered something that makes a tremendous difference in keeping my confidence level up and forging ahead. I’ve come across a way to better understand how I am uniquely wired and how that can be leveraged to bring great value to others. The solution is actually quite simple: books.
Book Discovery 1
Recently, I’ve gone through a period of time where I feel like I’m in the Whack-a-mole game a lot more than I want. There are only so many hits to the head that anyone can take! Then I started reading a book and I found a little bit of myself in that book. I read about leaders who are insatiably curious, ask lots of questions, and see links between things that others don’t. I was reading about me! That book describes innovative leaders and I found out that part of the reason I don’t fit into some groups is that they don’t want innovation. They want smooth waters and status quo.
Book Discovery 2
Then I began to read another book, a biography about one of our country’s founding fathers. While I don’t claim to be on par with that class of leader, I found a little of myself in that book, too. I read about a man who had great ideals and was willing to stand up for them, to the point of risking his career (and eventually his life). They didn’t have Whack-a-mole games in the 18th century, but his head certainly got bruised! I felt like I was reading about myself in a small way. I identified with claiming certain values that are unpopular and are sometimes met with scorn.
Book Discovery 3
I’m currently reading a book about introverts living in an extraverted culture. Here again, as an introvert, I am finding myself in this book. I am reading about the evolution of a culture that favors extraverts and how famous introverts have found their way and made a mark (e.g. Rosa Parks, Theodor Geisel, and Steve Wozniak). I am learning just how our culture emphasizes extraversion and the value that introverts bring to that culture. As a result, I am building confidence in my value as an introvert.
Clearly, the effect of this reading has been encouraging to me. While no single book tells me all of who I am (no book can do this), each book has a nugget about me. Collectively, these books help me to understand more about myself and how to bring value to others’ lives and work. It helps me to avoid the feeling that I’m a fish out of water and to look for opportunities where I can be me the way God designed me.
What about you? Do you find yourself in the books you read? What kinds of books? What have you learned? Do you find that books help you see your own life and role more clearly? Please let me know. I believe these insights can be helpful to other leaders.