Talk Back and Stand Out

Management Organizational leadership Respect


Key Point: How skilled are you at talking back? How do you stand out? Over the years, I’ve come to relish and embrace people around me who have the strength, courage and conviction to have a view that might be different than mine. I’m not endorsing behavior that is plain stubborn, negative or simply combative. People who trend that way exhaust me. Rather, I’m describing behavior that comes from deep listening, thinking “yes” first, AND expressing a view that likely gets us to higher ground. People that roll within that framework energize me. When they present a view, however contrary, I do my best to listen and embrace the difference. Sometimes I push back a little harder to determine the depth of their conviction. Most often, the debate helps us travel to ideas or a resolution neither of us started with. Sometimes as the “boss” (although rarely), I thank them and stick to my original position. Ideally, we’ve “fought” well and moved on as one. I just spent an evening reminiscing with my old team (we spent eight years together), and we fondly applauded our ability to “fight” and “rise.”

Over the years, I’ve found that the best leaders and organizations embrace fierce conversations, constructive disagreement and highly spirited differences. When leaders and organizations believe teamwork means “doing what your boss says,” or accepting “bland consensus,” expect underperformance at best and ultimately some material disaster. The most dangerous organization has a CEO where people line up to agree and take orders. Talking back, in that case, means career limitations and a likely exit. If you’re in one of those situations, get out now, as fast as you can. Why? Your growth mindset will be undernourished and your confidence undermined.

The Japanese have a wonderful maxim that loosely translates to: “The nail that sticks out will get hammered down.” I believe this refers to people who are overtaken by their ego and tend to come from an “I” first mentality. Standing out, from my perspective, is to become so competent at something that you distinguish yourself. Becoming known to be an expert at something people and organizations really value is important. This combines technical competence AND behavioral values people would not want to be without. As an example, a communication function can find lots of great writers. However, master storytellers are unique and enormously valuable. Combine that with the ability to reimagine and carry people along on a magic carpet of emotion; well, then you stand out in a way that the group or organization would be diminished without you.

Character Moves:

  1. Are you capable of talking back in a way that moves things forward? Are you a leader that seeks it out? If the answer is no, in either case, get out now! As an individual you’re worth more. If you’re a leader who has to be right all the time, please do something other than lead people.
  1. Learning how to stand out is a planned process. Think beyond a job or some specific responsibility. What distinguishes you? What have you learned this past week to move you further along that path? If you can’t answer that, you’re likely just going for the ride. Good luck, and keep the unemployment insurance website bookmarked.

Talk back and stand out in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: You never seem to see a movie or television show that depicts a boss being reasonable in this department (think Devil Wears Prada or Entourage)… But, that’s why entertainment is fiction. Think about the last time you had a job interview. Did they ask you if you had any questions? Why would it stop there? Respectful conversation  should be appreciated, and since you’re playing for the same team all searching for positive results, hopefully “talking back” and “standing out” is encouraged. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis