Are you being too nice?
I was on my way to an early Pilates class. Desert Island Discs as background noise on the car radio – until something caught my attention.
‘I never wanted to be nice’ said the castaway.
It was Heather Rabatts, former Chief Executive of Lambeth Council. In1995, she took on what was advertised as possibly the worst job in local government. To tackle the years of inefficiency and corruption, she sacked a third of the staff and earned herself the sobriquet ‘The Terminator’.
Being ‘nice’ meant blending into the wallpaper – not something she could afford to do when she had a chronically dysfunctional organisation with a turnover of £900,000,000 to turn around.
‘As a young mixed-race girl’ she said, ‘I couldn’t blend in so I made the decision to stand out more. And that’s how I defended myself against playground bullies.’ And she uses the same tactic today. ‘If people can’t put you in that pigeon hole, that’s one of the ways you get your voice heard around male-dominated environments.’
Now, I’m certainly not going to adopt her dress style. The 4inch leopard skin stilettos, ankle bracelet, black miniskirt and what a journalist described as ‘knee-length, black lace knickers’ that she wore for a board meeting at Millwall Football Club would be way too far out of my comfort zone, no matter how much I wanted to get noticed.
But she has set me thinking about how so many of us (and I include myself in this) tend to play safe, avoid disrupting the norms, and avoid upsetting people. We do it with the best of intentions – but pay the price of not being truly ourselves. We blend in – and in so doing, we neglect some important aspects of ourselves.
But in choosing to stand out, I don’t mean that we attract attention by venting whatever comes into our heads, regardless of the impact it might have on others.
Instead, I challenge myself – and you – to speak out from a heart-felt place and to express what is alive in us in the moment. That will make life richer for all of us.