How does one seek differentiation? A question that has been making history even though most are not paying attention. And it is how a human being answers this question results in how he or she contributes to society. The contribution is not only as an individual but also as part of a company, society, culture, etc.
Differentiation means the ability to do something different, and outside the norm. It is that simple, but the repercussions are not. Humans and the social and business structures they create seek differentiation; being better, stronger, richer, etc.
Differentiation is anything that differentiates you from others.
For some, they are different in the most basic ways; their physical appearance, tone of voice, their food taste, etc. Other than that, they go with the flow of leadership groups they belong to, like their company or society. Their behavior and response to a situation or a news bit can be expected to be around the norm of their surroundings and culture. Sometimes without even understanding why the society or culture adopts this point of view. They follow without much understanding, just repeating what they hear from others and in the news.
Some are positive leaders and are willing to consider that the answers society offer are not always the right answers. They want to look into, inquisitively, the answers to questions they care most about, and find the truth not for themselves, but for everybody who is willing to listen. They influence themselves and others to contribute and be a force for the betterment of the world and its inhabitants.
There is a third group of leaders who are interested in change. However, it is a change that is centered around themselves. Like the positive leaders, they too challenge the answers society offers, the norms, the culture, everything else, but for one cause only which is their betterment and improvement, even if at the expense and detriment of others. So, any situation they influence has to give a positive return for them, even if it results in negative effects on others.
This is no trivial issue, neither is it theoretical. All the implications that the world is living in today are results of actions and influences of such leaders, whether positive or negative. Look at civilization, technology, health care, and you will see that a lot of what we live in today was influenced by leaders, at corporate, country, and individual levels. On the other side of the coin, look at wars, famines, massacres, unemployment, injustice, and racism. How do they come about? Negative influencers or leaders, again at different levels. So leadership cannot be looked at from an individual perspective, but also from a plural perspective. One can lead as an individual but also as part of a collective social structure. Consider banks as leaders and their effect on the economy. Also companies, and their effect on the environment and society, or countries as leaders, and their effect on other countries and the world.
Leadership is about influencing others. So, one has to look at how he, or the social and business structures he or she belongs to are influencing others. Each one of us is part of a “bigger” leader; a family, society, company, culture, and country. All of these are leaders at a collective level. And each of us is a member of these leaders, and part of their contribution to the world.
The contribution of leaders to the world, whether individuals or groups, has to be a positive sum equation. Which means, considering all the effects a leader has, whether a company or individual, the sum of the effect of this unit of leadership has to be positive. This is how we make the world a better place. If the sum is negative, then the world is better off without it, So an employee knows the true effect of these leaders on the world, one has to look at the whole “equation,” and not from a personal perspective. Am I making a positive or negative effect on the world? not only as an individual but as part of a company or society.
Remember to look at all sides of the “equation,” not only your side. It is an equation because positive has to be the sum of an equation for all parties, not just for you. Negative influencers work to ensure their side of the equation is positive, usually at the expense of everybody else. Remember these negative influencers can range from your colleague at work, to countries and societies.
No “negative” leader will admit to their negative influence. To the opposite, they will try to look like they are philanthropists, doing their best to improve the world. So, one has to look beneath the surface to see the truth about who is doing what in reality. Why is this important to an individual? because it affects all of us in more than one way.
We have to look at ourselves as leaders and ask: what is the sum of the equation we are influencing? This is as individuals, and also as a companies and societies.
If you are into metaphors, this story might clarify the point:
A young man grew up in a mansion where he always knew they are the envy of the neighborhood. Kids in the neighborhood were either “good” or “bad” from his perspective. The good ones treated him nicely and with respect. The bad ones used to harrass him constantly. He never understood why. He never hurt anyone. His dad was a good man who helped those in need and well known in the society. One day, he decided to go on an exploration journey and find out more about the bad guys. He decided to hide his true identity and go on the street and find out what was really going on. He hid in a service truck and left the house with some money to get by and decided to explore the world. Once on the outside, he found that the people who he once saw as enemies were the victims. Those who were nice to him were those who were managers at his dad’s companies. However, the “bad” ones were from families that worked at his fathers’ plants for minimum wage. Farmers at his fathers’ plantations were given little for the produce that he, his family, and their friends are eating and enjoying. For his family to afford to live in the big mansion, many had to be deprived of the most basic services. He saw the world from a different angle.
We are fed the world, so to speak, from spoons of those who have been “taking care” of us throughout our lives. It can be a father, mother, boss, or society. Most, out of complacency and convenience, accept happily the situation and continue to be taken care of, accepting the picture drawn by others for us about the world, and who the “evil” people are. Very few dare to go out there and look independently and see the picture from different perspectives. Many are not willing to check the other side of the equation: How their side of the equation is affecting others. Many are afraid of what they will find.
A very good friend of mine and I had an argument over this once. We were torn on what was really going on regarding a problem between our companies. I asked him “do you notice that we are both prejiduced? ” each of us is saying what he is told about the reality of the situation. So I proposed we do our own independent research to figure out what was really going on. He is an honest man my friend. After thinking about it for a minute, he politely told me that he cannot do that. He is afraid of what he will find. Can you blame him? You and I find ourselves in this same boat everyday. Accepting others’ view of reality because it is convenient or because we are afraid of what we might find the truth to be.
At work and in life, many times our opinions of the truth are tainted by which side we are on. As if the truth is a tool to serve our selfish purposes. Once we fall into that trap, we become part of a negative sum equation.