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Diversity of Thought: Be a Smart Rebel

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A few weeks ago I posted on the concept of diversity of thought, and the importance of allowing for conflict and disagreement in the workplace.  One concept that is critical to diversity of thought is the ability of bringing your ‘whole self’ to work every day. This means that regardless of who you are or what identities are part of that, you do not have to feel that you need to account for any aspect of yourself in work.

It also means having the ability to speak your mind at work, regardless of your position, and be a willing part of any conversation. This idea, naturally, can lead to some conflict in the workplace, and the instigator labelled a rebel. But being a rebel in the workplace is not, in my mind, a bad thing at all, but rather a badge of honor. There is even a whole book (and website) devoted to this idea. Carmen Medina, formerly of the CIA, co-wrote a book on what it means to be a rebel in the workplace, and how you can bring yourself to work and infuse diversity of thought in organizations and be successful.

A key point of hers is that a rebel needs to be smart about they way in which they voice their opinions. We all have been in those positions where bosses say they want honest feedback, or opinions, but then when such feedback is given… you get the look. We all know the look – that silent glare that says we have gone too far, stepped on someones toes, and even if we have a genius idea, it is dead.

Suffice it to say, not everyone will like new ideas or thoughts you may have, so you need to be smart about when, where and how to voice those new thoughts. Medina very succinctly puts down on paper what does it mean to be a good rebel (i.e. one who is successful) versus a bad one – and I include it here:

Bad Rebels Good Rebels
Complain Create
Me-focused Mission-focused
Pessimist Optimist
Break Rules Change Rules
Alienate Attract
Problems Possibilities
Doubt Believe
Energy-Sapping Energy-Generating
Pirates Navy Seals
Obsessed Reluctant
Anger Passion

You can see that the good rebels encompass traits that I would argue constitute a natural leader – or someone who others want to be around. This little table has been a good reminder for me to look at from time to time. There have been times in every job where I have wanted to enact change – and this table helps me to see whether or not that desire for change is coming from the right place. If I notice that I am embodying those traits on the left side of the table, I tend to take a step back and re-evaluate my position.

What also helps me to be a smart rebel is to also know my own limits – or to know what items are those things that I think are worth standing up for. An example would be that, regardless of the cost, you would never do something your boss wants you to do if it is illegal. But outside of black and white situations, I would also suggest thinking of Polonius’ advice, “To thine own self be true.” And what I mean by that is to know your own lines-in-the-sand, and alternately, how much you are willing to sacrifice in order to make change in an organization. There are times in our lives where we may not like the direction an organization is going, or taking, and we need to be prepared to make difficult decisions if they are required.

For more information on how to be a smart rebel, be sure to check out: *http://www.rebelsatwork.com/blog/

Beth Schill is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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