Differentiation: A Critical Success Factor in Life

2019-05-21T10:17:36-07:00 November 25th, 2016|Tags: , , |

Weekly Impact is written for leaders by our Executive Director, Garth Jestley, who has decades of experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. Each week he will share insights on life, leadership and faith.

It is human nature to avoid standing out from the crowd. This simple truth explains why some people have a public speaking phobia. I relate because that was me at one time! Another simple example is dressing for events. In some cases, the dress code is specified. In others, it is left to us to figure out. Our tendency is to conform to the dress code of those with whom we are meeting.

This desire to conform can be a good thing. For example, in the investment business, were I to meet a “buttoned down” institutional investor wearing my jeans and sweatshirt, a sale is highly unlikely. My prospective client would assume that my sloppy dress code implied sloppy thinking regarding investments. Perception is reality!

That said, conformity can sometimes lead to corporate and personal failure. In business, differentiation is a critical success factor. For investors, a key analytical focus is determining how a company in which we are considering an investment differentiates itself from its competitors. Sometimes its products are clearly superior. Other times, it is price or service or clever marketing or all of the above. In any event, customers tend to compare and contrast when arriving at a purchase decision. Os Guinness, a highly regarded thought leader, says that “contrast is the mother of clarity”!

Do you conform or stand out on the important issues of life?

Successful marketplace leaders stand out from the crowd. People want to follow them precisely because they are different. Attributes such as their character, competence and ability to cast a compelling picture of the future attract followers. At the same time, true success in life generally requires that all of us be sensitive to culture and careful to avoid conformity where doing so would contravene important personal values. Of course, this success habit requires that we know our strongly held values!

For those of us who are followers of Jesus, our values are firmly rooted in Jesus’s directives for life as set forth in the Bible. Some of these require that we differentiate ourselves even to our short-term disadvantage. For example, today’s prevailing marketplace culture of pushing to win whatever the cost can motivate us to be less than totally honest. However, standing out from the crowd through truth telling helps us to experience peace with God, ourselves and (sometimes) others.

Of course, the ultimate way we stand out from the crowd is by sharing the good news of Jesus with other leaders, even at the risk of causing offense or rejection. I can put this issue no better than Penn Jillette, a well-known atheist: “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

Here is a question with which I challenge myself. On the important issues of life, do I stand out from the crowd? Do you?

Garth Jestley is a husband, father, grandfather, leader and business executive. Most importantly, he is a follower of Jesus Christ.