(NNPA)—Have you ever felt like a misfit? A fish out of water? An odd duck? A token? A peacock in the midst of a bunch of penguins?
I’d venture to say that almost everyone has felt like that at some point in their lives—in school, at work, in a social situation, in an organization. I know I’ve felt like that a couple times in my life. It can be painful, lonely and frustrating.
We all want to fit in and be accepted by others—it’s a normal human desire to want to belong. But at the same time, we want to be ourselves, to be unique, to be an individual. Nobody wants to be a clone—nobody wants to feel like a sheep.
The challenge is, how can we be accepted and fit into groups that are important to us…while at the same time still be unique individuals? Can we be our authentic selves and still be accepted by others?
This is the challenge faced by women and people of color in corporate America. How much do they have to change themselves in order to be accepted by the people in power? Do women have to act more masculine to make it to the top? Do people of color have to act more “White” to make it into executive ranks?
Corporations, businesses, and organizations preach the gospel of diversity, but do they really believe it? And what does it mean for those of us who aspire to be successful leaders?
A couple weeks ago I met an author named BJ Gallagher, who sent me a copy of her book that addresses these important questions—”A Peacock in the Land of Penguins: A Fable About Creativity and Courage” (Berrett-Koehler Publishers). I discovered that it is THE best-selling diversity book in the world—published in 23 languages with more than 350,000 copies sold! After reading it, I can see why. It’s a classic, timeless tale about individuality versus conformity.
“A Peacock in the Land of Penguins” is the true story of Gallagher’s experience working for a large metropolitan newspaper in Los Angeles. She was the peacock and the guys in power were the penguins.
Perry the peacock was bright, talented, creative, entrepreneurial, colorful and eager to bring new ideas into the company. But the penguins were traditional, bureaucratic, stuffy, arrogant and slow to change. Their past success had made them complacent and risk-adverse, leaving them blind to the reality of the changing world around them. The peacock faced a dilemma: How much should she—or could she—change herself to fit in and be accepted by the penguins? What price was she willing to pay for success?
The penguins had a dilemma, too: How much should they change their organization to meet the challenges of the future? Could they welcome diverse birds into their ranks without destroying their proud corporate culture?
“A Peacock in the Land of Penguins” is a terrific book that should be required reading for corporate executives and leaders of all types of organizations. It is a cautionary tale of what happens when conformity, fitting in and go along to get along are valued over creativity, innovation and individuality.
The book has a powerful message for penguins everywhere: “Change or die. Open your eyes and your minds to new ideas or you will perish in today’s competitive marketplace. Diverse birds of different feathers have talent, skill, new perspectives and new ideas to offer—if only you will welcome them.”
The book has a powerful message for women and people of color, too. “Take heart—you are not alone. There is nothing wrong with you and don’t let the penguins tell you otherwise! Fly high and show your true colors. Don’t let the penguins get you down. Keep searching until you find your way to the Land of Opportunity.”
(For a four-minute Internet movie of the Peacock story, see http://www.perrythepeacock.com.)
(Dr. Farrah Gray is author of “The Truth Shall Make You Rich: The New Road Map to Radical Prosperity,” “Get Real, Get Rich: Conquer the 7 Lies Blocking You from Success” and the international best-seller “Reallionaire: Nine Steps to Becoming Rich from the Inside Out.” He is chairman of the Farrah Gray Foundation. Dr. Gray can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or his website at http://www.drfarrahgray.com/.)