The Perils of Competitive Conformity

StandOutIt’s amazing how often we try to stand out from everyone else by fitting in better than anyone else. The title of champion or victor is given to the one who does what many others do, just better or faster or more often. We want to show others that we’re like them by doing what they do and at the same time display our uniqueness by demonstrating our superior skills.

There’s a danger however with fitting in. Fitting in provides great soil for the seeds of mediocrity but poor conditions for true excellence to sprout. If you’re doing what others are doing simply for the sake of doing what others are doing then what you’re doing isn’t doing much even if you’re doing it better than all the others are doing. Okay, so you’re probably not counting to see if that sentence was 140 characters or less. (It’s 190 by the way and that’s without a hashtag or handle so save the Tweet.) Let me explain it another way.

It’s good to have a sense of belonging in a community but fitting in is not required. And doing well at what others are doing is perfectly fine if it provides the following.

  • Authenticity – Does what you are doing authentically reflect who you are? Life is first and foremost about who we are and what we do needs to flow from the best of who we are. When our actions give others a true sense of our identity it builds trust and relationship, which in turn helps to build leadership.
  • Growth – Does what you are doing help you to grow? Do you gain a clearer self understanding? Does it move you towards a personal vision? Is your focus not on being better than them but on becoming more than you were?
  • Service – Does what you are doing serve others? Does it help them to grow as individuals? Does it bring us together as a community? Rather than trying to best them are you working to better them?
  • Inspiration – Does what you are doing inspire others to do their best at what they do? Rather than simply challenging others to beat you are you challenging them to be authentic, grow, serve and inspire?

Now if your calling and purpose takes you down a whole new path, doing what no one else has done – AWESOME!  Don’t worry about fitting in. There’s one thing that nobody in this world can ever do better than you and that is to be you. Charge down the path, throw yourself into the fray and lead on!

There’s one other aspect I want to mention regarding standing out by fitting in.  This problem often shows up in typical performance review systems where everyone is graded on a standard set of criteria. The unintended but clear message is this – “Do what everyone else is doing but do it better than them.” Consider the effects of that message. What does that do for collaboration? What does that do for innovation? What does that do for bringing yourself to your work? Hmmm. Instead of trying to engage people in the organization by getting them to fit it, let’s engage the organization in the individual and let each person be there incredible, brilliant self.  Take the lead and show them how it’s done by working to express yourself rather trying to impress them.

Reach higher than superior mediocrity.
Stand out by standing strong in who you are and
living that out in day-to-day magnificence!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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What’s better than engagement?

Employee engagement is held up as a key element to corporate success. It is important that employees have a sense of connection with the organization. But what about connecting the organization to the employee? What about the rapidly changing work environment, is employee engagement still enough? Or is it time to focus on something more?

While the general concept of engagement is a wonderful thing, unfortunately it is often regarded in a mechanical view of the corporate world: The Do loop of sacrifice & compensation. In this context the very word “engagement” takes on its mechanical connotation. A clutch is something you engage. Employee engagement seeks to make sure that each individual gear is meshed smoothly with the corporate cogs.

With a line drawn between work and life there is no real balance to be found between the two. How can an employee be engaged at work when they are forced to leave life at the door? What does it matter when what matters doesn’t matter?

And the situation degrades further when economic conditions worsen. The work side gets jammed with more pressure to Do, and employees are just thankful to have the problem and not the less fortunate alternative. Too often employees are thought to be engaged in their work when all they are is married to their job.

It’s important that employees are personally connected with the organization. But if people aren’t able to fully be who they are in their work, the most that engagement will ever produce is mediocrity. Real success is not found in connecting the individual to the organization.

The key is in making sure that within the organization
each individual remains connected to who they are.

So, what goes beyond employee engagement?

It’s not just about engagement; it’s about expression & enrichment: The Be-Do loop. Is an individual able to work in a way that builds upon and expresses who they are? Are individuals enriched by their work, do they become more from what they do?

“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets out of it
but what he becomes by it.”
  John Ruskin

This isn’t a management issue. It’s not an HR issue. This is a leadership issue, and that means it’s the responsibility of each individual who comprises the organization. In the network of relationships and interactions each person must be wholly regarded and respected for who they are, not just perceived as the piece of them that shows up for work.

What are your suggestions? How do we go beyond engagement to create a more fulfilling workplace? Are you engaged in your work? Is your work an expression of who you are? Are you enriched by your work? Are you there to make a living or to make a difference? How does an organization create a corporate culture that recognizes each individual for their intrinsic worth and not just their value to the corporation? What’s better than employee engagement?

Photo courtesy of AESThetic Photography