Your Team Will Thank Your Contribution When You Find Your Authentic Voice

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“I just sat in the room in awe. All these senior writers, and here I was. I did not speak because I had not found my voice.”

That statement was from Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of Arrested Development, speaking about his first big break into the TV business as a writer. He had joined the TV series The Golden Girls, working with a writing team of grizzled veterans. It was his first big break into comedy writing.

I was intrigued by his quote. Everyone struggles to find that voice where we speak from a platform of knowledge and authority. How many times have you sat in a meeting and just did not feel comfortable putting your two cents into the discussion? But over a period of time we usually feel that, yes, we do have something to say.

Keeping quiet and assessing the dynamics

But on the other hand, we have always observed the SGITR syndrome, which translates into the Smartest Guy (or Gal) In The Room syndrome. At every opportunity, a person infected with this will not let pass the chance to speak, and all-too-often, it is out of turn.

I have a friend who is a member of Mensa, the group with high IQ’s. He never misses an opportunity to somehow bring up his membership. Sadly, he does not see the problem with this.

But as Mr. Hurwitz states, he kept quiet during the first meeting at his new employer. He said that he studied the dynamics of the room to get a sense of the players there. He wanted to see the interactions and how they all worked together. To him, this was a strong learning experience and basically set him on the path of success.

So listen, watch and study the dynamics of the room if you are a new addition. If you do not know or have a feel for the dynamics, please keep your mouth shut. Use this new time to get a sense of who the players are before you find your voice.

You also need to look for the right moment to speak up, not just to fill space with words, but the actual moment where the discussion has entered your area of expertise. Use that moment to let your voice come through. By strategically looking for the right moment, you will slowly gain the respect of being a seasoned contributor and not just the showboat that is always looking to throw their 2 cents into the conversation.

Imitators not allowed

In order to add lasting, meaningful value, we must – eventually – find our own voice. Not an imitation voice where we try and emulate someone else, but a voice of our own. When we go the imitation route, it becomes apparent pretty quickly.

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Power is not analogous with volume, masculinity, or intimidation, but through a voice that is heard and heeded. However this frequently gets lost when we get so tightly focused on trying to prove that we have arrived. That arrival does not have to be announced; it is an aura that will fit you like a tailored suit.

Remember when we were in school and the teacher would ask a question, and it was the same one or two kids whose hands always shot up? They knew it and they took great glee in showing everyone how smart they were. The rest of us in the room grew to despise them not for being smart, but for always trying to show off.

People in an organization put on a similar demeanor in the workplace, and this type of behavior does not bode well for building a great team environment. As a matter of fact, it is a team killer.

So, the next time you get that new job or join a cross-functional team, remember that the voice has to find you. Wait till you develop it and then start the contribution.

Your new teammates will thank you — as well as your organization.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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