Tall poppies and sticky-out nails

Photo of a red poppy, background blurredOnce upon a time, when I was still working in corporate, my boss – a VP at the company where I worked – called me in to his office to tell me to stop speaking up in meetings.

These were the same meetings where another VP – a woman – was constantly interrupted and talked over.

The difference between her and me was that I didn’t stop talking when someone interrupted me.

There’s an Australian saying that “tall poppies get mowed down.”

And a Japanese saying that “nails that stick out get hammered down.”

Stand out, get whacked.

Language creates experience. So if we believe that certain people – women, people of color, LGBTQ people, anyone who’s “different” from the cultural norm – should be quiet, then we’re creating a hostile work experience for those people.

No, it’s not actual bullying or harassment. That VP wasn’t bullying me when he told me to be quiet. But he was actively silencing me, requiring that I not offer my ideas, suggestions, input on whatever was being discussed.

Language creates experience. My experience then was of being shamed, put down, dismissed as having nothing worth listening to.

And language creates positive experience.

You can actively seek opinions, input, and ideas from people who might not otherwise feel “allowed” to speak up. And you can listen to the voices in your head that pass judgment on those “not like us,” and acknowledge that those judgments are a symptom of bias and bigotry.

Leaders – whether or not they have the title, role, authority, or responsibility – need to be aware of their judgments, thoughts, and expectations about how people “should” behave. Because your language shapes your experience, which causes you to shape others’ experiences.

And if you hammer down the sticking-out nail or mow down the tall poppy, you just might be silencing some of the most creative thinkers and brightest stars on your team.

I’ve been asked why I don’t offer women-only leadership development programs. I have in the past, but I’ve come to see that every leader has to work with every gender (not to mention color, ethnicity, spirituality, etc.). So my programs are inclusive – in order to model and teach inclusivity.

I’m opening the doors on a Community for first-line managers: a Community of Practice, Learning, and Experience, offering first-line managers the support they need. Check it out.