Last week I attended a convention in Philadelphia, but as an attendee, not a speaker! It was the annual gathering of my American professional colleagues, all members of the National Speakers’ Association, and it was a great opportunity for me to rekindle relationships, swap “road” stories, and leave rejuvenated and refreshed. Even though I am Canadian, the close proximity of our two countries means that I have many amongst their ranks that I consider my good friends. As is tradition in their association, on the final evening of the convention, five speakers were recognized and honoured by their peers by admission into the American Speaker Hall of Fame. As the winners were announced, each came up on stage and (as you might expect :)) gave a very moving speech of acceptance. What struck me the most was the similarity of two of their stories.
One winner spoke about how she was ostracized, particularly in her early days in the profession, because she was different. Not different physically, but more because she was outrageous and flamboyant, and for that reason she made people uncomfortable. She described how she would attend a local association chapter meeting and no one would talk to her or ask her to sit at their table. Despite the snubs and cold shoulders, she chose to be herself, and almost three decades later, was being acknowledged by her professional colleagues by induction into the Hall of Fame.
Another winner, well-known for being contrarian and making people stop and think, spoke about how his provocative messages upset many of his peers who were more traditional and conservative in their beliefs. Because his comments often made him unpopular in some circles, he was often excluded and ignored by many of his peers. In fact, as recently as six years ago, he was verbally attacked at this very same convention because of one of his speeches. As he made his acceptance speech, the irony was not lost on me — he was shunned by some members of the National Speakers’ Association because he was exercising his right to free speech! Yet once again, despite the constant opposition by some, he was being recognized with the Association’s greatest honour.
In both cases, these two individuals had been excluded in the past because they were different — in behaviour and beliefs. The good news is that both these winners were given standing ovations so clearly the tide has turned and opinion has shifted. But their stories got me thinking … are there others who are still ignored or their points of view discounted because they are different? It got me thinking about the workplace. As a manager or supervisor, how many times might you have, inadvertently or intentionally, shunned or disregarded someone who is different – in thought, appearance or behaviour? As a leader, it’s your job to create inclusive workplaces; in fact, creating an environment where everyone feels like they belong IS the only way to capitalize on the range and variety of human potential that is available to you. Are you doing it? What gets in the way? Your thoughts and comments welcomed.