How Outliers Shaped My Personal and Professional Growth
I feel privileged to meet and work with people at the top of their professional lives who are on the cusp of change, men and women who are questioning their grit-ability. My view is that the more conversations we have about our experiences, the better we define our propensity for grit. Everybody has it: the skill is knowing where to find it and how to use it for further growth. Sharing stories about our experiences is one way to do precisely that.
There will always be good and bad experiences when it comes to success. However, how we respond to these can significantly impact our personal and professional development. As a data scientist, I have always been fascinated by patterns and outliers. In this blog, I will share some of these outlier experiences and how they have helped shape my presence and success.
The Patronising one
It was a conversation on a boat floating down the Danube in the early ’90s: a ‘friendly’ one warned me that my nurturing, elegant but determined (leadership) style would never work. And that, in the space where I was developing business relationships, I needed to be manipulative to succeed – manners did not matter.
Good try, Mr Patroniser: Respect, knowing your customer, and good manners did and always will prevail in business wherever you are.
The Frustrated one
This was somebody who always wanted to be the first. The fuss he could make about telling everybody he was the first to talk about technology was beyond perplexing – and tragically amusing.
Mr Frustrated: I wish you all the luck you need from talking. I was too busy building my small and mighty team, who were actually innovating that same technology and, shortly, also delivering it to our first, and so valuable, customer.
The Angry one
He was the one who could not stand that a team of well-trained people could challenge the status quo in a legacy organisation that needed to understand collaboration or co-creation.
This one could have been a showstopper, but I did not let that happen.
Mr Angry: thank you for threatening that I ‘won’t make it as I wasn’t an expert’.
You probably didn’t hear me saying, “Just watch me”, but I know that you did watch us making it . . . big time! Sorry, you missed the opportunity to be a part of it. I only hope you did not waste the rest of your life being angry and nasty to others around you.
The Unremarkable one
Imagine a boiling kettle, steam coming out everywhere. Unfortunately, a self-important man told me at an industry exhibition (where we were recognised as doing something very different) that the (his) problem was that I had too much energy! He struggled to dream up a plan to undermine everything we were doing.
Mr Unremarkable: luckily for me, it was our golden team with whom I put my energy, and we climbed and moved mountains together. I hope you have joined a better employer than you had then and haven’t run out of steam.
The Smart one
What about the real estate developer wanting to persuade the bank to lend them more money than the scheme was worth?
Mr Smart: you had an expensive suit and a lovely tan, but we listen to the data in our due diligence projects and stay objective. We could not edit (or massage) our findings to suit your agenda, as data never lies. I am sorry that you eventually went out of business.
The good thing about these outliers is that they are no longer to be seen – well-done guys for retiring, or whatever that is called.
And thank you; you taught me so much, and I have grown so much stronger for it.
Equally, there is the other side of outliers: the gentlemen. Those who are inquisitive, polite, interactive, taking risks, establishing new relationships, trusting data and creating new and better processes. Learning, testing, developing, starting again; bouncing ideas, sharing stages, admitting fears, growing people, running projects, building credibility – all, one step at a time.
You are the golden 20%. And now, for some acknowledgements based on a few entries from our Visitors’ Book.
Thank you for having faith and trust in what we were doing and signing our first 6-figure contract.
Your Majesty: for having the curiosity and inspiration to come and meet us after a spontaneous invitation from when we met at a social gathering.
Mr Tutor / Professor
Thank you for the inspired and highly customised reading material you recommended when I was your student in the early ’90s. Both then and now, they confirm the value of listening and intuition. You helped me formalise and magnify my lifelong interest in the relationship between people, places, cultures and behaviours. Inter-cultural skills are timeless: like gold!
Indeed, a few of you are here – flying from the four corners of the world to meet us. So grateful for doing business professionally and graciously for decades.
Sitting on cardboard boxes to plan a national mobile-radio network with you (you know who you are!), a descendant of a most famous writer, is still a highlight from my early career.
A few here, too. Having just landed in a vibrant culture with solid internal politics, you appreciated objectivity, integrity, innovation and a helping hand to gain your own competitive advantage in a busy market. We built on inspiration and rigour in both directions with extraordinary teamwork between our respective teams. Priceless!
(My ex-Special Forces driver) – not only for driving me through the night for early morning meetings but for teaching me lessons that I value to this day. And thank you for being an exquisite presence when I needed you at complex negotiation tables . . . with a particular breed of men (some, amongst the other type of outliers!)
You made me laugh with tears when I came to update my Romanian ID in the late ’90s, and I needed a new photograph. You asked me, from a separate room, through a small window, what my last educational attainment was, and when you heard I had just graduated from Cambridge University, you came into the room where I was. You asked me – ‘What in your right mind are you doing here? I have never met anybody who has ever come back (to Romania)’. He listened when I told him that even if people did not come back physically, they would always be there in some way. I was probably an early outlier bridging a fast-changing world. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
In a few years, I will have to update that ID again. I hope to meet you if you haven’t retired by then!
Thank you for your sense of humour and impeccable timing in delivering your lines. You never failed to release tension among us in what felt like the most challenging of times.
I know I may have recruited you as young students, but you have come such a long way as professionals, colleagues, parents, and entrepreneurs spinning out: I’m so proud of you. You have been there in the good and the more challenging times. I’ll always treasure our times together. One day we’ll update that map of where you are all scattered worldwide.
Of all the gentlemen in this extract, one is more visible: he has a new (executive) job and has no plans to retire soon. I’ll leave it to the readers to guess who . . . !
We are a mosaic of men and women – with all the highs and the lows: this is one of the reasons for starting Image Ability, to help more women and, increasingly more men, come forward to re-design their image, their voice and their presence – when they are ready.
Speaking for myself, gender polarity is getting tiring, and it is time for some more meaningful balance. So, let’s work together on it.
Until we next meet, may I encourage you to take a moment to respond to that simple message coming from any one of us:
Do you remember when we did this or that; would you care to say a few words about how you found it when working with me?
And, equally, reach out to ask it for and of yourself.
Collectively, we’ll make the world just a bit better if we think collaboratively.
Image is a capability, and substance comes with history – as does authenticity. So, please make the most of it to inspire and help others!
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you.
P.S. If you are still searching – or doubting your own grains of grit, email me at [email protected]. Enrol in our new programme, ‘Realise Your Future Image’.
Visit our Image Ability store and learn more about how we can help.