In praise of the solid citizen

Many ordinary men and women combine to create beauty. Credit — Unsplash.

Early in our careers, all of us wish to explore what we are really good at, what we like and where we’d like to be. Of course it is a continuous journey, but significantly more relevant at each career turn.

There is always some fear of being left behind. Organisations put dis-proportionate effort and resources into high potentials. Being ‘one among the masses’ and not among the identified ones means being looked over for many things. And that does cause some heartburn for the individual.

Somehow the word ordinary has gained a negative connotation, especially in the context of talent management. Unless you are a ‘hi-potential’ or a special someone, it is almost akin to being low on worth. And this rubs off on individuals in many different ways, creating a negative spiral sometimes.

Yet, organisations and institutions are largely made of the you and me, ordinary people. In fact, they calls us ‘solid citizens’. Leaders succeed because they have many ordinary men and women actually believing in them and executing their ideas. In times of turbulence, the ordinary holds institutions up. So why would the ‘ordinary’ not revel in it’s ordinariness.

Here’s why ordinary people are really extra-ordinary and we must revel in being backbones of institutions and the society at large.

1. Everyone has a role to play

“..when I feel that what I’m doing is insignificant and unimportant, help me to remember that everything I do is significant and important in your eyes, because you love me and you put me here, and no one else can do what I’m doing in exactly the way I do it.” — Brennan Manning, Souvenirs of Solitude

Every individual brings something unique to the table. Each of us needs some reassurance sometimes. But most of the time, it is important to understand and believe that we are extremely important in the scheme of things in any organisation or set up. If we are not, perhaps time to move somewhere else. but keep in mind that if one was not adding some value, the organization would not have you anyway.

Many of us, even if we understand our own worth and value within an organised setup, suffer by comparison. It would be useful to remind oneself that “like I am unique and add value, others bring their own uniqueness and value, and both of us are not really comparable”.

2. Even superstars are ordinary, they can’t do it alone

“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” — Mother Teresa

One of the challenges we face is to feel periodically a bit ‘not really needed here’. This happens sometimes because we are not recognised, or called out specifically for the day to day work we do. We see other folks around us getting recognised and we seem to be in the background all the time somehow.

Someone shared an analogy once — when you go to a beautifully built house, you admire the finish and the external fittings. But be aware of the underlying construction. If that is not good, all the external gloss will vanish quickly. That what you do not see, the bricks and mortar that goes into the solidity and security of the house, is what makes it possible for the fittings to shine and be admired.

The solid citizens -us- are the brick and mortar in any organisation, those that give strength, security and solidity to any organisation wanting to be sustainable.

3. All diamonds look ordinary at the start

“All men are ordinary men; the extraordinary men are those who know it.” ― G.K. Chesterton, The Uses of Diversity

We will all have our moments, even those of us who believe that we are really ordinary. More often than not, that moment may not have come yet. But when the time is right, and you are at the right place, that moment will happen. The day to day solid work and progress — which may not seem like it — is the way to excellence.

The sturdy foundation built while being a solid performer day in day out is the base for the extraordinary. And there are some serious advantages. No one can take away the solidity, it is not a flash in the pan. The sturdiness can bear the shocks or a few ups and downs which shakes folks when the foundation is not solid.

There are enough and more examples of late bloomers, who were considered ordinary for a large part of their lives. Here is one such writeup as reference. https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/do-good-things-come-to-late-bloomers/

4. Ordinary keeps the game going

“I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given.” — Muhammad Ali

Most of us do not pay much attention to the folks around us-the ones who repair the rods, cut the clutter and clean the drains. The postman, the corner shopkeeper and so on.

But imagine if one day they decided to not be there for you and me. What would be the impact? And if they chose not to show up a few days, or many days?

Each of these solid, ordinary workers make our lives more liveable. Their contribution is huge and we only feel it when they are missing.

So it is with all of us ordinary contributors. We certainly add value to other people’s lives, maybe in small daily ways. We ourselves may not always feel it, because no one tells us, but rest assured, we make a lot of difference where we are — in organisations, teams and communities.

5. A forest is made of many trees, all similar yet unique

“Greatness is the born of ordinary men who decided to work extraordinarily hard.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

The ordinary ‘solid citizens’ have a huge role to play in modern organizations, while many may push the cause of ‘hi-potentials’. It is not an either-or, each cannot do it without the other.

But what would keep the ordinary woman or man going. As the Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan said:

“Frankly I’ve never really subscribed to these adjectives tagging me as an ‘icon’, ‘superstar’, etc. I’ve always thought of myself as an actor doing his job to the best of his ability”

The trick therefore, for each of us at an individual level, is in two parts:

  • being extremely focussed and doing our jobs to the best we can.
  • collaborating extremely well to create extraordinary impact; 1+1=11

“Great men are just ordinary men that didn’t quit.” — Tommy Barnett

Bimal Rath is a Leadership and Talent development consultant and author. He helps individuals in exploring and discovering their potential and shifting gears. He works for Think Talent, consulting with companies in shaping their talent strategy for the new world of work. Visit thinktalent.co to get a glimpse of his organisation’s work.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com. The article has been update on Medium with some changes.

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Bimal Rath. A loving heart is the truest Wisdom.

Executive Coach. Student of Leadership in all walks of life. Loves uncovering potential in people. A helper.