4 Ways Looking ‘Different’ Helped Me Become A Stronger Leader

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Vitiligo is a skin disorder in which patches of colored skin lose pigment and turn white. This cosmetic condition is physically harmless but can make “spotted” people stand out from the crowd. I have had vitiligo since I was 12 years old. It started as a small stain on the side of my mouth, my mother thought she had forgotten to wipe off the toothpaste. Now at 43 years old, 35% of my body has lost pigment in various patches on my arms, legs and back.

Most would think of this condition as disfiguring, socially debilitating, and honestly depressing. However, my success today has been guided by a journey to be different with grace. Here are four reasons to stop outside has brought me to stand up as a stronger leader.

Related: 4 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Stand Out From the Competition

1. It’s okay to feel alone

Growing up, I didn’t know another soul that looked like me. It was clear that people would talk about me behind my back and immediately consider me an outsider as soon as an introduction was made. The feeling of being distant and subconsciously left out, even by people with the best intentions, became a normal feeling throughout my adolescent and young adult years.

Yet today, we often hear leaders say, “It’s lonely at the top.” What they mean is that they struggle to find true personal connections with the people around them. This is because an inherent power imbalance is created when one person is responsible for another person’s livelihood. How can someone make a real and meaningful human connection when their paycheck is on the line?

People who are different, and have been different for a while, can empathize.

Great leaders, therefore, learn to be comfortable with the discomfort of being alone. And for those who stand out, they have had years of preparation for exactly this experience.

Related: You Don’t Have To Be Alone At The Top: Why Entrepreneurs Should Take Charge Of Your Mental Health

2. The ability to cast vision can make or break you

The “mirror self” is a concept developed by Charles H. Cooley that postulates that humans see themselves as we think others see us and act accordingly to make sense of everything. In short, our identity is a self-fulfilling prophecy based on what we us to think others to think. Related to this, Audre Lorde says, “If I didn’t define myself, I would be shredded in other people’s fantasies about me and eaten alive.”

I learned this while I was doing my PhD. in social psychology and it was, to say the least, enlightening and inspiring.

Being different can teach future leaders how not to be eaten alive and how not to let what they think others think of them become a reality, reified with action. People who are different can make it. their choice to define who they want to be and project a compelling vision of their authentic self to others.

Importantly, for those who make this decision, practicing the ability to cast a vision among friends and family, and constantly navigating one’s sense of belonging in groups, gives them a refined leadership presence, boldness, vision, and communication skills. exceptional skills that their peers will not develop. until much later in life, if they develop at all.

Related: Words Matter: Tips to Boost Leadership Communications

3. Emotional intelligence is a muscle that you must develop

Wanting so badly to feel a sense of belonging, being different, can play a trick on one’s mind. Throughout my life, I have learned to notice the slightest non-verbal cue, the smallest intonation of the voice, the subtle changes in posture, a small restless movement or a minute change in the direction of the eyes to understand a person. person and know where I was with them and their judgments

The objective for those of us who are “different” is to assimilate our way of belonging and avoid situations in which we do not.

However, mastering the skill of knowing quickly, accurately, and at a glance what people are thinking and “where they are” in their minds can be inspiringly useful. This skill allows those of us who have “spotted” for significant periods of time to know exactly how to encourage others to reach their potential, how to model ways of relating to team members, as well as how to earn trust and support. with direct reports, clients, and other major players in our leadership journeys.

Related: 5 Reasons Emotional Intelligence Is The Future Of Work

4. To lead well, you must be a lifelong learner.

Rick Warren once said, “All leaders are learners. The moment you stop learning, you stop leading.” In fact, an intense curiosity about the people and things around you is required to lead well. We all know that one grows by staying the same. Leaders must explore all ideas, topics, and environments—unlike their own—to forge connections, spark creativity, and build market momentum.

Standing out with a skin disorder like vitiligo has made me so curious about the world around me that I became a lifelong learner. Adding this to the other life lessons learned along the way, I am grateful to have remained outside so that i could stand up as a stronger leader. My hope is that you are too.

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