Dares are common among children at play. They dare each other to do something outlandish or out of the norm. But these same children may grow up and lose the nerve to take on some dares, because the societal repercussions are significantly greater as an adult.
Differences are necessary in providing complementary traits to create a fully functioning system. The human body is comprised of many different internal and external parts, each with their own specific purpose, that follow the brain to perform smoothly. A symphony is comprised of many different sounding instruments, some with significant parts and others with smaller parts, each eliciting a beautiful sound, when properly following the conductor and the music.
In the same way, each of us bring differences to our teams and organizations. We each may function in seemingly important ways, or in miniscule and replaceable ways, but nonetheless are each vital to the overall success of a team. Failure to share your full value with the team, may result in missing an opportunity for innovation, inability to meet clients’ needs, or overlooking costly design flaws. As leaders, it’s important to prioritize the growth and development of each team member’s differences to draw out their value to the broader organization.
I had a stark reminder of this while watching a recently released movie, “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, which followed the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who discovered a neurological deterioration similar to Alzheimer’s disease in the brains of deceased pro-football players. He named this chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and published it in a medical journal. Faced with public denial of his findings, he worked to raise consciousness about the long term risks of football-related head trauma.
Dr. Omalu dared to be different in five specific ways that reflected his value to his profession. In a comparable manner, I dare you to be…
CREATIVE – Do something original, new and different. Dr. Omalu used different tools for his autopsies because they were more helpful in coming to the right conclusions. While he had to follow proper medical protocol, he also used creativity in his approach and methodology to ensure that the result represented his best work.
Your creative genius lies in the midst of a problem that irritates you, or an issue or idea that is constantly on your mind. As a leader, take the time to nurture creativity in each of your employees. Where possible, provide an opportunity for them to explore their capabilities and take on interesting projects.
CARING – Pay attention to and be concerned about the needs of others. Dr. Omalu cared about his patients even though they were deceased. Before he started each autopsy, he would place his hand on the body, call it by name, and ask it to tell him what happened, so that he could get to the root cause of why they died.
There’s a saying that when you show care and concern for your employees, they in turn will show care and concern for your customers. Your daily leadership decisions and policies send a clear signal to your team about the value of people. They know if you’re sincere. Instead of coming into work each day focusing on what YOU need, focus instead on what each member needs to be able to contribute fully, whether personally or professionally. Encourage them to perform and contribute at their best.
CURIOUS – Be eager to learn or know more. Dr. Omalu’s curiosity to understand the reason behind the unexplained neurological condition led to a new diagnosis that has informed millions of people in their athletic pursuits and personal medical decisions. What’s more amazing is that he paid tens of thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to reach this diagnosis, because his employer didn’t have the funds, nor was it their policy to pay for this advanced research.
Curiosity is a precursor to learning. It’s the driver and motivator. Though it’s easy to be consumed with the daily challenges of leadership roles, it’s important to take time to explore insights in related areas to stimulate thought processes and spur new ideas. A well rounded team should include individuals who are curious on a variety of topics that can contribute your objectives. If your team knows that you reward and respect curiosity, this gives them permission to exercise and strengthen their “curious” muscles.
InCORRECT – Don’t always comply with the norms and values of others. Dr. Omalu’s findings weren’t politically correct. In fact, they were threatening to some. He had to fight to get his work recognized, and at one point wondered if he had failed.
At some time during your career, you will be faced with the choice of being politically correct vs. being right. The decision to be right, may appear on the surface like failure as you deviate from the crowd. But this type of failure strengthens principles and values. If you’ve never failed, you’ve never attempted something of impact and significance. Failure adds value when we learn something from it and build upon it.
COMMITTED – Obligate yourself to pursue your passions and purpose. Dr. Omalu was committed to the pathology lab and the discoveries therein. Several years after his work was published, he received an offer to work in Washington, D.C. in a prestigious government health administrative position. He was told that if he accepted the position he’d never have to work in the pathology lab again. After some thought he turned down this chance for more recognition and compensation because he knew that his first love was working in the lab. That was his purpose and passion in life.
When you know your purpose and passion; even when you have just a broad directional understanding of what it is, commit yourself to that direction. When you’re operating in your purpose, it’s not work, it’s play. Too many individuals try to follow the popular path that may seemingly lead to greater recognition, power, money, etc., and fall short when it doesn’t align with their true gifts.
Remember that daring to be different doesn’t mean operating independently of everyone else. Instead, there’s a great obligation to collaborate and cooperate with others in related areas to collectively add more value to your objective. The human brain or a symphony conductor functions a central controller, receiving inputs from and providing outputs to all parts of the system for it to work together. In the same way, leaders should ensure their organizational culture, structure and communications processes receive inputs and provide outputs that recognize the roles and value of its members in reaching a common goal. So dare to be different, and collaborate with the differences of others, to benefit the entire organization.