Some people regularly stray into arrogance territory, by which I mean that they overestimate their own importance and their own capabilities. Indeed, this is a common theme in movies and dramas: the person who annoys others with their inflated self-belief and then eventually gets their comeuppance. It makes for satisfying viewing.
However, what I think is far more common is for people to go to the other extreme, to underestimate their importance, their capabilities and the difference they can make. This is often a matter of a lack of confidence (possibly linked to self-esteem issues), but that isn’t always the case. In a significant number of cases it is simply that we have genuinely underestimated what we can do. We haven’t tried, so we don’t know what our capabilities actually are. It is one of those cases where fear of failure will actually bring about failure.
So, the point I want to emphasise is this: Don’t believe you are too insignificant to make a difference. There are plenty of cases on record of individuals making a big difference, and I am not talking about special cases here or award-winning heroes. I am talking about ordinary people who wanted to make a difference, gave it a try and found that they were more influential than they had realised. Of course, it won’t happen every time, but it won’t happen ever if you don’t try. And where it doesn’t work out, you can learn from the experience.
For example, I have often worked with new groups of staff (newly qualified workers, for instance) who have told me that, as newcomers, no one will take any notice of them, so there is no point raising any issues, as no one will listen. On every occasion this has happened, I have made the same comment in response, namely that it will often be the opposite – that is, new people coming in who are not yet ‘embedded’ in the workplace culture will generally bring a fresh perspective and notice things that people who have worked there a while have lost sight of. The contribution of newcomers can therefore be invaluable.
Of course, much will depend on how you put your ideas across. If it seems to your colleagues that you are sweeping in and criticising before you have even got to settle in, then you will create a lot of ill feeling and make yourself unpopular (and thereby make it less likely that you can make a difference). So, tact and sensitivity are the order of the day.
What it boils down to is getting the balance right. On the one hand, you don’t want to overplay your hand and come across as an arrogant know it all, but nor do you want to write yourself off by assuming you don’t have a part to play.
And, of course, if you really do want to make a difference, then it is best to be part of a group with common aims, rather than just a lone ranger. So, who are the people who are like minded? Who are the people you could team up with to make whatever positive difference is needed?
There is no magic formula; much of it is about trial and error and then learning from your experience. But, you don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself. You can learn from watching what others do, seeing what works for them and what doesn’t. But, just assuming that you can’t make a difference is likely to hold you back and it is not just you who loses out – think of all those people who also lose out from not hearing your ideas.