Not fitting in is hard. Even in the executive world, where as a leader you know you shouldn’t always fit in, the desire to do so is powerful. In general, most of us typically do fit in and life is fairly smooth. However, what if, through your experience and knowledge in your career, you now find yourself in a position where your role is essentially to bring up the issues, the gaps, the unthought of roadblocks? What if your role is now to purposefully not fit in?
While from a surface perspective, this sounds like a critical role, and no doubt it is a critical role for a team to be successful, it’s not an easy role to play. In the heat of the team conversations, being the only one in the room with the knowledge and courage to speak those words can feel dangerous. Lonely. Quickly, you become viewed as “the blocker.” The person no one wants to have at the meetings or listen to because your role to share gaps is seen as a frustration. Each time you speak, it seems you give the team a new problem they have to solve for or a hurdle they have to overcome. By asking one simple question, you have delayed their pilot launch by weeks. In a world where it is easier to fit in, how do you make yourself comfortable being the lone voice?
The reality is that the loneliness starts in our heads, so let’s start there. First and foremost, remember why you are in the role you are in and the value you bring. You, and only you, have been put on the team for a reason; your experience, knowledge, and ability to influence in that specific work group. Own your role. Moreover, remember your value. If you call out the gap now, it is going to make the project successful in the long run. Success it the ultimate goal, so stay focused on your ability and the desire to have the project succeed.
Secondarily, you need to fit in with the team in order to not feel lonely. So ask yourself, what do you have in common with the rest of the team that you can align around? We said it previously, the desire to ensure the project is successful. Remind them of that. When you are providing feedback, asking questions, pushing against the process, remind the team that you are doing this to ensure their hard work pays off and that it’s better to find it now than after a full launch of the strategy.
Last but not least, don’t forget to check yourself from time to time. It can be great to have the knowledge, be able to share it, poke holes in other peoples’ work, etc. You feel accomplished in being the person who asked the critical question or raised the flag no one else saw. But when that is all that is accomplished, there is no teamwork. Remember to not just call out the gaps, but be part of the solution. This is critical. To simply say why it won’t work but not share potential solutions is futile. Saying you care about the project is one thing, saying it and then putting your brain in the game to solve for the gaps, is a totally different level of commitment.
It cannot be said enough that the person in the room with the knowledge and courage to speak the truth is a powerfully dangerous individual with infinite value. You are that dangerous combination. Worry less about fitting in and focus more on the value you add and the ability to support the team on all fronts. If you truly become part of the team, you may still be dangerous, but you won’t be alone. And that too, is a combination of infinite value.