A friend of mine posted a picture today, of a bunch of guys standing together in khaki or navy slacks and pull over sweaters.
No, they didn’t all work for the same company, and what they were wearing wasn’t a uniform. Unless you consider it the de rigueur costume of salespeople and entrepreneurs at a networking luncheon, then yes, you could say it’s a uniform.
When I started my consulting career, more than 20 years ago, the uniform of choice was a navy suit. Regardless of gender, if you wanted to be taken seriously you wore a navy suit. Let’s just say navy suits don’t suit me. But I owned at least four, and in my early days of entrepreneurship I didn’t sit down with a prospect or get on stage to speak in anything else. As I became more well-known I graduated to red suits, red being the “new black” in those years. They had a lot more more style than navy. Then I stopped wearing suits. I’d earned the right to be different, but if I’d been different from the beginning chances are I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to earn anything at all.
This friend, who posted the picture of guys in the uniform dress code of the meeting and greeting entrepreneur, is a brilliant guy and successful business owner. And I can’t imagine him showing up, even to meet with a prospective client, in khaki pants or a navy suit.
Individualism is far more than wardrobe though, and my hope that 2015 will be the year of the one-of-a-kind man has nothing to do with fashion.
It’s about value.
You see, I believe that it’s the guys’ turn to redefine their position and value in the workplace. Women have been doing it, are still doing it, and their revolution from steno pool to corner office to mompreneur has brought about revolutions in the heart of how business is perceived and conducted. When I started in business I was a woman in a man’s world, and I had to play by those rules. Because of that revolution I can now be a women in THE world, and I make my own rules. But men are still mostly playing in a man’s world, by the same old rules, even if they did get a little more avant garde in their personal style.
Yet, the greatest value has always come from people, regardless of gender, who took the liberty of being authentically different, who used “what if” the way a two year-old uses “why,” who insisted on seeing solutions through their own perspective of the problem, who generally said, “I’m me. This is what I do. Move out of my way and let me do it.”
If they didn’t get beat down by the powers that be. If they didn’t give in to the pressure not to stand out. If they didn’t give up because standing up for their vision got them shot down by those who didn’t understand or just didn’t want to compete with unique. If they stayed true to their personal truths, their unique gifts, and their view of the world, they brought something to the table we’d never considered before. And that has value. Even when it doesn’t work. Because something we’ve never considered that won’t work still opens our minds to something we haven’t considered that will work. Without someone stepping out on the ledge and proposing something different that won’t work, nothing new that will work will ever come to light.
Brands understand the power of being different, and being the first to get attention for those differences. Brands are extensions of people. Without people daring to be different, brands are doomed to recreate the same round shape while trying to call it something that isn’t a wheel. And you don’t want to get stuck in the rut of renaming the wheel.
Besides, the world needs more one-of-a-kind thinkers, and doers. We need men to challenge the khaki club mentality even if they keep wearing the slacks.
How do you make this YOUR year for showing up as yourself and being recognized for your value?
Shed the labels
No, I don’t mean the designer labels, I mean the labels you use to figure out what box you, and everyone else you work with, fits into. You won’t discover, or be discovered, by identifying as a man, or a Gen Xer, or an engineer, or a college grad. Because when you plaster yourself in labels no one can see YOU, they only see the boxes you belong in.
Start thinking of yourself in “I am” statements that are about YOU, not the circumstances of your life. “I am in this world to …” or “I am a person who can …” When the labels you wear are about purpose and ability your inner genius has room to move about. And, you won’t be aligning yourself with subgroups which can limit your potential for relationships and opportunities.
Know who you can help (and who you can’t)
You’ve heard the expression, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” You aren’t trash, but your particular gifts and talents may not have much value to some people or situations, while at the same time, being beyond value under other circumstances or seen through someone else’s lens. If you’re in a culture or line of work that can’t make full use of your abilities you can’t expect that they’ll want to pay you your full value for them. You don’t have to jump ship immediately, but at the very least do some strategic thinking about a career move that lets you be seen as the treasure that you are.
It’s not about questioning authority, it’s about examining traditional wisdom, understood premises, norms, and processes. Questioning authority challenges people, questioning status quo is only about challenging the beliefs, systems, and structure. Certainly authority will still feel the challenge, but if you’re truly motivated by the opportunity to find a better way, and not by an ego-need agenda of proving that you’re smarter or better than the people currently in charge, you will be able to win them over. Because at the end of the day, you’ll make their lives better too.
Show confidence and camaraderie
You are a one-of-a-kind. So is every one else. You earn the privilege of making this your year by supporting every other one-of-a-kind guy who’s trying to escape the crowd. Individualism is counter to our conditioning, so it’s going to require a culture shift to make standing out feel safe. To really make this the year of individual value we must create a culture, in the workplace and away from it, where the individual is truly valued.
Photo: StartUp Stock Photos