Inside Outsiders — Why and How

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Originally published in the first issue of my newsletter Inside Outsiders on LinkedIn. You can subscribe here.

Inside outsiders combine the clarity and objectivity of being outside an organization with in-depth knowledge because they are inside. This unusual combination–rare in most organizations–is essential today, in people in general and especially in leaders.

Inside outsiders build resilience. This will likely determine the survivability of your organization. Things are moving so fast that if we don’t change, we are in effect standing still. The question then is, how do we change? What do we do differently? It is key to look outside the organization for clues about new directions. There is no single right answer. Each organization, each individual needs to search, discover and explore.

We need to look at these questions from two perspectives: individual and leader. The two overlap in many cases, as leadership is the influence coming from any part of the organization that brings change, and not a position in the hierarchy.

Why and how to be an inside outsider as an individual

Why? It will build your personal resilience.

Organizations change direction, modify their workforce, look for new skills, get acquired, acquire, downsize and so on. How do you as an individual stay relevant and essential for your organization?

How?

  • Do you spend a significant amount of time on external networking, to learn and share with people outside your organization?
  • Do you take responsibility for your own learning, and then share what you learn with others, interacting in ways that build on what you and they have observed?
  • Are you comfortable questioning the status quo in your organization for work practices or business strategies?
  • Do you do your best to bring your external intelligence and insights to the attention of the “official” decision makers to help influence decisions?

A mid-career manager in India explained to me how his way of working recently changed and why he decided to position himself internally as an external adviser:

“Knowing that, in the future, permanent jobs will be replaced with gigs and projects based on skills and aptitude has enabled me to adopt a mindset, where I can see things from within the organization with the eyes of an outsider. It allows me to see things in a new light.”

Why and how to be an inside outsider as a leader

Why? It will make you a better change orchestrator.

As a leader, you need to embrace inside outsider behaviors and mindset in others and in yourself to serve your role as change orchestrator. You cannot make change happen, but you can open pathways and place signposts that lead in potentially promising directions.

How?

  • Are people in your organization able to communicate directly with you or your immediate team when they have ideas that may challenge the status quo, without having to go through layers of management?
  • How often do you consult with workers at the edges of the organization, especially those who work directly with customers? When was the last time you talked firsthand to a customer?
  • How often do you spend time with people on the front lines and in operational roles?
  • Do you make regular attempts to meet startups and other small companies that work in your industry. What about startups in related but different areas?
  • Do you give people time for outside activities such as external networking, attending conferences, and taking external online learning programs?

What are your thoughts?

How do you answer the questions above?

Let me know what you think about insider outsiders. Have you seen them in your organization? Are you one? What have you experienced?

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Gig mindset employees ensure resilience and meaningful outcomes for people and organizations.

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Jane McConnell

Jane McConnell

Author: The Gig Mindset Advantage. 20+ yrs advising large organizations, 12 yrs of global research on work culture & leadership. Podcast: Boldnewbreed.com

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