For those of you that weren’t aware, I live in Calgary, Alberta. There’s a pretty well-known event that takes place the second week of July every year. It’s known as “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth” and has a tagline of “the most fun you can have with your boots on!” The event is the Calgary Stampede and it has been running continuously for 102 years. It is the richest rodeo in the world with $2,000,000 in prize money, so it attracts the best cowboys and cowgirls from around the world to see if they can tap into the mother lode.
However it is so much more than a rodeo. For Calgarians it is a celebration of who we are as a city with roots in ranching and prairie life styles. It has a festival attached to it that is somewhat more like Oktoberfest in Germany or Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. It is about strutting our (often adopted) heritage with daily pancake breakfasts, beef and beans for lunch, lots of two-stepping and line dancing and the odd alcoholic beverage thrown in just for fun.
Oh … did I mention the part of dressing up like a cowboy? And doing it for 10 days in a row? Jeans, wide belt, giant belt buckle, western shirts (bolo tie and bandana optional), boots and a Stetson? And we wear it to work to boot! No suits, sports jackets, or business casual. Just Western gear!
So when a business visitor shows up during Stampede in a suit, they stand out like a sore thumb. Imagine getting on a plane in the morning dressed in an entirely accepted manner and showing up a few hours later in a place where you are so different from everyone else!
I can remember a few years back being out at a “social event” one afternoon with some friends in a bar full of hay bales, Stetsons and boots staring at three guys in the middle of the room in Saville Row suits. The group of us made bets as to whether they were lawyers (the courts have no sense of humour about Stampede), or whether they were from Toronto (where they never believe it when we tell them how to dress). I drew the short straw and was sent to find out their story. Turns out they were lawyers from Toronto.
All this said about wearing suits at Stampede, not too many Calgarians hop on a plane to Toronto in their Stampede gear though. And when Stampede is over, we put it away until next year. We certainly don’t want to look out-of-place their either!
It is amazing how strong our need to fit in is. Calgarians are all comfortable dressing up in something that would be considered a Hallowe’en costume anywhere else because we all do it together, and people who didn’t understand the memo and then show up dressed “normally” are totally uncomfortable.
Except for Pierre Dorion. Pierre is an amazing IT consultant and friend that I’ve known for years. He’s from Montreal but moved to Calgary years ago because of a love for Western lifestyle. He wears what would be considered to be Stampede gear (only nicer) every day of the year. He is most comfortable when dressed that way and he dresses the same way whether in Calgary or New York. That’s just who Pierre is. In his words, he says that showing up in that fashion shows “how you can follow your heart and be who you are”.
I admire him greatly for his ability to just be himself wherever he goes. He knows the clothes don’t make a difference in who he is, and he isn’t all that concerned if some others might judge him because of assumptions they make because of his dress. In short, he is just comfortable being Pierre and feels more authentic when he shows it.
What if we all did that? I’m not talking about clothes here. I’m talking about dropping our facades, our need to “be the same”, our search for acceptance and showed up as our authentic self … how we want to be in the world. What if we all then used that stance to offer the world the innate talents we were given, made our uniqueness our value statement to the rest of our connections? What if we just knew that our “differences” were actually our “strengths” within our community?
How do we, as leaders, seek out the uniqueness of others and use them as strengths? What do we do to really get to know our team members such that we can give them the greatest opportunities to grow authentically? How do we honour and embrace the value of those around us who dare to be different?