"There can be only one."
Have you ever known someone who thought there was only room for one person at the top and they were determined to stay there? This cutthroat behavior is often the result of overcompensating because of insecurity and fear. Today we talk about why it happens, how it affect the workplace, and what to do if it happens to you.
In the race to success, we're not all starting from the same place. Level the Pursuit seeks to fill in the gaps and provide accessible, bite-sized leadership lessons for anyone looking to improve their skills and prepare for the next step, whatever that might be. Welcome back, my friends, I hope you had a great week. Last week, we talked to Terry Tucker, who gave us an amazing story of overcoming adversity and generally being an all around fantastic guy. So I hope you really enjoyed that. This week, we're going to talk about the Highlander mentality. Now, for those of you that are not born in the 70s, or 80s, you may have no idea what the Highlander is. So we'll talk about that. But have you ever known anyone who got to the top and then didn't find it lonely, instead really liked being up there alone and try to push everyone else off the hills they tried to go up? That's what we're talking about. Today, we'll talk about what that is, and why it's not okay, and what to do about it. This week, think about ways you can mentor others, we've been talking a lot about the mentorship you need, but you should be given a little bit back as well. So what is the Highlander mentality? Well, the Highlander was a movie, and then a TV show, about this Highlander guy that went around and would chop other Highlanders heads off, because they could get each other's power. And whoever was the last one standing would get all the power and control the entire world. It was very at ease. But their mantra was, "there can be only one." And I have seen it so many times, as I've had different jobs, people who felt like when they were the only or they had worked really hard to get where they were, that they could be the only one. Now, that's a really powerful thing, right? We talk about diversity, we talk about inclusion, and we talk about trying to help people around. So how is it they're still people that get someplace, and they want to be the only one? Well, it can come from a lot of places. And not all of these people know they're doing it. And most of them are not bad people, they don't necessarily want to hurt others, they don't realize the implications of their actions. So where does it come from? Usually, it starts out from being the only. And if you've ever been the only the only person of color, the only man the only woman, the only gay person, whatever it is, being the only---sucks. There are a lot of times it is not fun at all, there's sometimes it's actually awesome, you can get a lot done. But a lot of times it's not, you can feel really scrutinized. You can feel labeled as though when you speak, everything you say represents whatever group that you're part of, or whatever group people think that you represent. And it can constantly feel as though you have to legitimize your thoughts, your behaviors, your opinions, even facts-- when you use facts, people still don't believe you because of how you look or how they perceive you. One thing that's really difficult and being the only is being placed in a position to tolerate inappropriate behavior or hurtful behavior, to avoid upsetting the dynamic, and this one absolutely drives me crazy. When people break rules. And people do this with social norms all the time, people break acceptable rules. But if you pointit out you're the jerk, and I cannot stand that, it just I don't understand how are the politeness in our society has made it okay if you're the first one to break the rule, but when you poin it out, you're the jerk, and that's a really difficult position to be in, when you're the only. So you've worked really hard to get there. And now you're having to behave in this way that is overly scrutinized and is so stressful, that you can become quite protective of that position. A lot of times, people have had to fight really, really hard to prove themselves, they've been the first one to break these barriers, the first one to get to each step on this, in on this journey, each rung on this ladder. And so they fought really hard, they're not willing to give it up. And so you can understand why that might be. Another reason people might feel this way is seeing the evidence for themselves seeing that one person who looks like them might get ahead and seeing their leadership or their co workers or whoever pushing the others down as though they have that one person which you know, can be tokenism of just having that person to check that box. And then honestly, you can be told flat out, I was in a situation where women were very underrepresented in general in the industry. And we in our, in our area, we happened to have more women than the average. And so my co workers actually came to me because we were hiring, they came to me and said, you know, we already have more than the average. So can we all agree that we're not going to take another woman this year? Like You gotta be kidding me? No, we're gonna take the best person available. I don't care. their gender is, but are you serious right now that's that's really what we're looking at is we've reached some imaginary quota, and therefore, we're not going to take anyone else. So you can see why people would be really frustrated with that. But you can also have just insecurity in yourself or imposter syndrome feeling like when you see someone else coming up, that is like you, they might be better than you. And therefore your position might be a risk. And that can be really, really difficult, especially if they're good. You know, if they're really good, that can even be more threatening, instead of being uplifting and exciting. It can be identity shaking, that you might be losing your opportunity where you are. And along with the identity is the role we play in a group. You know, when I was in the fire department, my station, I was the only female station there. And that was my role, you know, good or bad. I knew what to expect. And so when there was another one on the shift, thankfully, my female colleagues were amazing. And I had a great time with them. But you always have if someone you haven't met before, you have this kind of feeling of how is this person going to upset the dynamic. And she's not taking my my guys, this is my crew, you know, you have this ownership of this group, because you've established your role. So that can be a really, really hard thing. When you see someone coming in, it's like, Where do I fit in if they come in? Where do I fit in this group, now, I've worked so hard to achieve my position. And then finally, some people just don't want to be associated with any particular group. So the idea that someone else is coming in kind of creates that group dynamic is hard enough already being labeled, but then to be grouped and associated against your will, whether this person is good or bad can be really frustrating for people. I mentored a young woman who I said, Hey, you know, I'd like to mentor you, I'd like to introduce you to some stuff. And her response was "no, that's cool. I'm good. I don't, I'm not about you know, that women empowerment stuff. I'm not I don't want to be associated with women who hate men and things like that." And that was a fair thing to say, you know, she, she shared her, her feelings, honestly. And I really appreciate that she was honest with me, because it gave me the opportunity to say, "Hey, I'm not a man hater. All my mentors have been men so far." But it's not about associating in a certain way, or hating men or finding ways to work the system. It's about recognizing that sometimes, the fact that we have female faces in this group are going people are going to respond in a different way. So it's recognizing those situations, and then deciding how we want to react, you may not change anything at all. But it is helpful to know that your gender or your color, or your accent, or what however you're identified, might be affecting how people respond to you. All it is, is information. So when does this happen? Well, it happens when you most often when you're the only, but it can happen when you're just an underrepresented group. So if there are a few of whatever women, people of color, whatever it might be, then it can still happen. And those group, that group might behave in that way. But generally, it's a it's a single person doing that. And so it could be because the up and comer is pretty good. And so you're not sure how to respond. You're not sure if they kind of want to see them prove themselves. And so you wait and see what happens, but you don't help them. But then it can be because they're really good. And that's actually a bigger issue, because that can be existential threats, man, if someone's coming up, and they are really, really solid, people stop thinking about the fact that they've earned their position they've earned where they are. They have established credibility, they've established established experience, they know what they're doing. And instead, they just think this person has this all this potential, they're going to knock me off my perch. And so in that situation, it's actually I have seen it personally, I can't I don't have any statistics on it. I have seen it personally, where the person that is a higher rank or higher position will actually actively undermine that other person to make sure that they don't continue to rise in a way that's potentially threatening. And that is horrible to me. I just don't, I don't understand it.Well, I do understand it. Actually, I can understand being worried and stressed and wanting to continue moving forward in your own career, but I don't understand doing it at the expense of others. And so what if someone's terrible, Well, unfortunately, that still happens. People can still be pretty ruthless, it because you don't want to be associated with someone who's terrible who looks like you or acts like you or sounds like you. So, again, they can be undermined, they can not be mentored appropriately, they cannot be given information they cannot be given the teaching that they need in order to avoid pitfalls or or avoid mistakes. So all of those things amount to looking at this person who's trying to make their way who's in this industry with you and maybe a couple years behind, maybe the The same. It's not too common that people try to do this up. So if you give a boss or a supervisor that's like you that it's not terribly common to try to undermine them that from that way, but it does happen. I have been undermined by other women on several occasions. And I don't know that it was necessarily this, but I think it was more of my personality. But no matter what the reason, undermining people because they are like you, and you think they don't deserve to attain the success that they have achieved, or that you have achieved, all of those are negative for both you and for them, but also just for your group, whatever that might be at large. So why is it a problem? Well, first of all, you guys know what I think about karma. Be kind to people. I think it's crappy, to add to anyone's difficulties in their life difficulty in their job, especially if they're underrepresented, if they're already working their butt off to get where they are, and then you keep it on, I think that's terrible karma, I think that will come back on you. So I think you should not do that. But also your your judgement of who's like you might be wrong, you might, you might think that they're being judged in the same way or grouped with you. And that might be incorrect, they may not be looked at the same way you are, if you are a woman of color, and they are a white woman, or vice versa, or you are a black man, and they are a black woman, you may see similarities where other people don't. And so it's obviously it's negative either way, but if other people don't see the similarities, you're just some jerk that's undermining somebody for no reason. So not that there's reason otherwise. But it looks even more random if you start doing it. And other people don't see the same association, the order or don't create the same association that you do. But if you're right, and one of the worst things to me is that it can really reinforce negative stereotypes. I mean, part of the reason that stereotypes are such a problem is because they don't allow us to be assessed and evaluated on our own merits, they put us in this group, they give us a label, and they don't let us see that it's Mary, that I'm Mary. I'm not a woman that looks like this, or is this tall or speaks these languages, I'm Mary. You have to look at me in those light in that light. But if you start reinforcing stereotypes, it makes it that much easier for people who are ignorant, or who don't have as much experience with people like you, or who are just lazy, it makes it easy for them to group you together. and not have to think about you as individuals. And I think that's a terrible disservice to both you and the other person. But it also misses an opportunity, so many opportunities, but for mentorship, for networking, whether, regardless of the relationship, whether they're above or below you in the hierarchy, there's opportunities for networking, and mentorship all the time, and just having a support system. Now, most of us would love to have someone like us to talk to someone who has a similar experience. I know like two other female orthopaedic surgeons that I could reach out to and say, Hey, I have a question. And there are others that I you know, I know a few others, but there just aren't that many in in, at least in the Air Force anymore. And that's kind of lonely sometimes. You know, certainly I have other female officer friends, female doctor, friends, male, orthopaedic surgeons, all those things. But having someone who has your exact experience or is close to it, obviously, we all have our unique experiences. But as close to it as possible. There's not a lot of substitutes for that. And so why you would throw away that opportunity I do not understand. But also, it hurts the advancement of whatever group that you represent. And obviously, as I said, we don't like labels, we would love it if we're not labeled, we would love it if we could just be the people that we are. But the fact is, in many ways we are labeled because it is quick and easy. And it is a shortcut for the brain. So when you do that, you hurt the advancement of whatever it is be whoever you belong to whatever group that you're associated with. Because the more of us that there are in any given room, regardless of what we look like what it regardless of what it is, the more of us there are, the more normal it is. And the more of us there are at any level, the more available to promote to the next one. So if you keep people down at the lower levels, none of us will ever reach the highest levels. It is totally within your power to affect your own advancement in the advancement of people that look like you by lifting up and empowering the people around you. As I said before, nobody looks good, knocking someone else down a peg. It's always it's never classy, there's no way to insult someone or to hurt them and look Like a rock star, you always look like a jerk. But man, it affects you too. It affects you, too, if you want to rise you need, because I'll tell you what, there's very few of us that are that shining star that get to go all the way up to the top. And most most of us are going to be part of building that pyramid. So, I mean, if you're the person that's going to be a shooting star look good. But the rest of us ought to be really proud to be part of that next layer of the pyramid to push someone up higher. So you need to think about that. And again, even if someone looks like you, or is of the same group that you identify with, they still bring their own experiences, thoughts, ideals, all of that. And so they're going to still bring a new point of view to your organization. So when we create teams, we want visual, cultural and cognitive diversity, we want all of those different voices in the room, so that we can solve problems in a more efficient way, we can attack bigger problems, and we can come up with solutions that are enduring and that they help people. So you are hurting that cause you're hurting the efficiency of your organization, you're hurting your productivity, if you are inhibiting people with new points of view from being on your team. And then finally, it can ultimately prevent your advancement, whether people buy in or not. If you're the type of person that holds other people down, for whatever reason, eventually comes back on it goes back to my karma argument. But still, eventually, someone will notice that you're not someone that brings people up that mentors that is pushing people forward. you're someone that holds people down. And those people, although they do get ahead in some industries, and many more industries, it's becoming evident that that toxic leadership, that selfish leadership is not palatable, people don't want to be around it, they don't want to be led by it. They don't want to be colleagues with people that behave that way. So you are ultimately hurting yourself, if you go out of your way to keep from mentoring others, or even to hold them down actively. So what can we do about it? Well, to start off with, you need to examine your own goals and motives. Are you self motivated? Or do you have altruistic or social motivation, if you are truly self motivated, if you care only about your own advancement, and honestly, you don't want to change, I do think eventually it is going to hold you back. But in the short term, it may work, you may keep everyone down, and you may be able to hold on your on to your position and keep moving forward. But if you care about the group that you represent, or your company or your team, that it's never the right strategy to do that, you shouldn't be trying to help anyone move forward. Regardless of what they look like or how they act, you should be trying to make them better, because that's what teammates do. That's what leaders do. And then get a mentor and be a mentor, whether this person is following you in the same trail or they're ahead of you, you can be both a mentor and a mentee. in any direction, mentorship goes up downside decide, it goes every direction. So this person has something to share. Because even if they're following you, they are still seeing each position at a different time than you are. So your own actions may impact how it goes forward. If you did a great job, you may be setting the tone for them to get the benefit of the doubt. If there are things that you were not good at, you may be setting the bar low, so they look really good. But you haven't gone through some of the stuff is actually going to affect their path. So be a mentor to them. But also let them mentor you because they're seeing things from a whole different point of view. And then build them up and back them up. If they are like you, the same group, share some traits share the same hometown, whatever it is, build them up and back them up and help them when they feel down, support them and make them feel as though someone is listening and someone cares about their struggles. And then when something happens back them up. So often when you're the only or underrepresented you have to put up with crap. And it would be so nice to have someone step to your defense. Now. Ideally, someone of the overrepresented group would step two, your defense but that's not always what happens. But the more of us in the room, who stick together, regardless of what it is, those voices become harder and harder to ignore. When there's when, especially when they're speaking up for what's right. So build them up, help them get there and then back them up when something happens so they don't feel alone. Now if they aren't good, which happens sometimes help them help them. Don't let them just suck. That's not That's not good for anybody. Honestly, it reflects poorly on you, I have had female medical students, on my rotation do a bad job and someone comes to me and like what's going on there? You know, in in the military, I've had medics say dumb things in front of line officers, and someone takes me aside afterwards and was like, man, how come your metrics are so dumb? Like, are you serious, what I don't even know that person I. But that's what happens. So you have to just understand if they're not good, help them. Maybe they're not meant for your industry. And so be maybe your mentorship is helping them find their strengths to help them make that decision. But if they're meant to be in your industry, and they're committed, then help them find the tools that they need to succeed. If they are good, make them better. Don't just make them better make them better than you and poise the people behind you to go further than you ever thought you could go. Because you know what, if they don't pass you, then they're setting an amazing foundation for you to continue moving forward. But if they do, first of all, that's awesome. Second, think of the doors they can open for someone who tried to help them on their way up. It all comes back, I'm telling you do the right thing, because karma will get you, but let them pass you if they're gonna pass you. I would love it if my airman go further than I ever did. And I would love it if some of my officers become general officers, that would be the coolest thing mindless to go on to be chiefs, that would be the freaking coolest thing. Because I had the opportunity to work with some brilliant people that I was so proud to know. It's, it's only positive, it's only good for the world if we're all smarter. And then moving on to that. Look for ways to develop and recruit people who weren't even in your industry. Because you know, what, if it's one versus two, that's, that can be a struggle. And I will tell you, as a woman, when there's two of us, it can be very, like the chemistry is different. It's just it can be really hard sometimes especially decide, depending on the size of the group. Adding a third makes things significantly easier, unless two of them gang up on the third one. And that's not very cool. But most of the time, we don't do that. Or at least we don't do it in front of people. But you get to four. And suddenly it's just people. You know, you've heard about tipping point, you know, Malcolm Gladwell has a book. And there's there's a lot of theories about getting the right number of people in the 30%. And there's there's a lot of numbers that they throw around, I will tell you from small group experience in the jobs that I've had where I've been, I've been the only on lots and lots of occasions, four is awesome. Three is pretty darn good, too, if you're besties is also freaking awesome. Although that can be difficult, because whenever you have an idea, if your colleague backs you up, people just hear, oh, the girls have a thought instead of it being another intelligent person who also agreed with this particular thought or theory. So that that can be a little bit of a challenge. So three is nice for that. But the more of us there are whatever it is women, people of color, gay, trans, whatever makes you unique and awesome. When there are more of us, it is more normal. When there are more of us, there is a more robust layer to each level of that pyramid, the more we get to see ourselves represented in the highest echelons of leadership. And the closer we all get to finding success. Okay, so you're like, Cool story, bro. That's what to do if I am the jerk. But what if I work with the jerk? That is a fair question. So what if you are the victim of someone with a Highlander mentality? That is really difficult, especially because usually they have a little bit more power in the situation than you do. So what do you do? The first thing is to reach out to them. Now, it may not be intentional, they may be subconsciously during these things because of an insecurity that they're not even conscious of. So bringing it out in the open may actually build lines of communication. Or it may put them on the defensive or they might be doing it on purpose, in which case it doesn't help. But trying to confront it directly is what adults do. So it's worthwhile to try to meet with them and see if there's something that you've done, that might be upsetting them. And honestly, it could be something else, maybe you did something real dumb and they're really upset and you have no idea. So it's worthwhile to try to open that line of communication. Let's say it doesn't work, it's not effective. The next thing is expand your circle, both in your industry and outside. So find mentors who look like you or have had similar experiences. We know that each year we make a little bit of progress. So our The one before us had a pretty rough time. And most of them have perspectives on how to get through it. So that information can absolutely be invaluable as you try to move forward. But also, in your job, expand your circle, even if you're the only or there's two or three. Don't worry about just talking to people who look like you get to know everyone build up your credibility, build up your team, because then if someone is trying to unfairly attack you or undermine you, you'll actually have people that are willing to step up. So the better you are on that team, the more you try to be the good person that you know you are, the more effective it'll be in general, and the harder it will be for someone else to take you down. Next, make sure you take the high road, I'm never going to stop saying it, I think it's the right thing to do. Don't let someone drag you into the mud with them. If someone's gonna say or do ugly things, don't do them back. There's no way to do that and look classy, there's no way to look good when you're insulting somebody, so don't do it. Try not to gossip, try not to complain too much. Just keep your head up and keep moving forward. Now. If they do things that are truly inappropriate, please use the channels that are available to you use your supervisor, or theirs. If it is your supervisor, use the person above them. But use appropriate channels if the behavior is out of control. But if it's not something that's actually against the rules, take the high road, keep your head up and do not be petty. And then finally, keep on being a badass. The absolute best revenge for people that want to see you fail, is to succeed. marvelously. I will tell you, there's nothing like the look on someone's face when they didn't believe in you and you kick ass. So keep on doing your best. Keep on moving forward, and keep on being the badass that I know you are. So this week, take some time looking at the people around you. Is there someone that you can mentor? Is there someone that is coming behind you that you think has potential and if there is reach out, drop them a line and see how they're doing. Maybe they don't need a mentor right now. But just opening that line of communication can make it a little bit easier if they do it. Maybe they just need a sounding board or a friend or whatever it is. We've talked so much about finding mentors, but now it's time to be one. So that's been our discussion of abolishing the Highlander mentality on level the pursuit. If you liked the discussion, please give it a LIKE, SUBSCRIBE or share with a friend. If you didn't drop me a note and tell me what I could do better. Next week, we're going to talk to de man, she's going to tell us about being a bombshell and what it's like to find your purpose. Don't forget to find someone to mentor this week. And when you do, head over to www.levelthep rsuit.com and share your insig ts and your successes. I can't wait to learn from your thoug ts. Thanks again for joini g Level the Pursuit. Well, we ca 't choose where we start. We ca choose our dreams and how we pu sue them. Remember, succe s is a team sport and there s room for all of us to achie e our goals. So be a good leade . Be a good follower. And Do S mething Grea