I was my mother’s difficult child; must have been a shock after my two well behaved sisters. I was the kid who never followed the pattern. My school reports said: Beverley is very intelligent but will not conform.

I don’t know why. There’s just something about me that hates having to corset my heart and Botox my personality in order to toe the company line. It’s not that I want to be different particularly; I don’t. It’s just that I don’t want to have to expend all that energy on not being different in order to satisfy the powers that be. It can feel like a strait jacket if you do it for too long. (Ask me how I know…)

That streak of stubbornness has gotten me into quite a bit of trouble here and there over the years, quite specifically when Rick and I began to lead our first church (and even since, although I’m increasingly impervious to negative reactions nowadays). I was taught rigidly from my previous church leaders, and the sphere I lived within, that women couldn’t preach or lead within the church. I wanted to do what was required, but I had this innate ability to take difficult concepts about life and doctrine and break them into terms that people more easily understood.

I spent a lot of time trying to tread the line between what was ‘just sharing’,  and what was preaching. What was ‘encouragement’, and what was actually teaching the word of God. Sometimes semantics work for people, but not for me. I’m of the ilk that says that calling a skunk a rose won’t make it smell any better, so you may as well call it what it is.

When your enculturation is so entrenched that your mind can’t understand what your heart knows full well, you are living in a state called ‘cognitive dissonance’ which Wikipedia describes as: the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.

When people attempt to live this way long term, ultimately something has to give. It may be your mental health, your free will, your financial well-being, the vocation or career you are gifted and skilled at, your relationship with a God who cares, or a myriad of other important relationships. These losses are gut wrenching, especially because it’s not how God created us to live.

There is often a ‘game’ that is played in such organisations, churches, or governments. The rules of the game revolve around who is fraternising with whom, who is in favour with whom, and who can be counted on to always say the right thing rather than challenge the status quo by bringing in a different perspective. Unfortunately, this kind of corporate culture signifies an unhealthy leadership context.

Back in the day, I felt this pressure to play the game, which meant being seen with the right people, being heard saying the right things, putting a muzzle on anything that might be seen as thinking for myself, and being rewarded for all that effort by basking in the reflected glory of whomever was the flavour of the month.

I couldn’t do it back then and I still can’t, or won’t. The enormous amount of energy required to push and pull all the odd bits of my personality in, not to mention the wisdom that the years of experience, study and revelation have taught me, so I could fit just doesn’t ring true for me. I have often watched, up close and personal or at a distance, many of my peers turning mental and emotional somersaults to belong in the In Crowd. It’s tragic to watch, and all the more because they have no idea how much of their uniqueness is being stripped away and, as a consequence, the bright and powerful input they could have contributed to the overall well-being of their cause is lost. The effort to fit in takes too much of our authentic self. In that way it means that the effort to belong in that context tears away more than it gives, which is appalling because organisations thrive on diversity, not uniformity.

The Bible says the fear of man is a trap. I hate thinking of the cruel jaws of traps set for foxes, rabbits, bears and other free creatures. When an animal is caught in a trap it will often gnaw its own leg off in order to escape. Death is inevitable either way. Our desperation to earn other people’s approval spells death to the incredible beauty and strength of our unique design.

Our deep need for acceptance means that parts of our character and personality become surplus to requirements in the context of the group we are trying to impress, so we have to amputate pieces of ourselves in order to be acceptable to the Groupthink that is operating. And slowly our uniqueness dies; a haemorrhaging of what makes me ME. Without knowing it, and often unconsciously, we slash away at many of the qualities that are unique to us, those parts that would contribute stunning and wonderful input to the larger picture; amazing characteristics that were designed in us to reflect the image of God, and bring previously unthought of insights to our projects.

If you have to be the same as everyone else in order to fit in, you’re better off not fitting in. That may seem unthinkable at first, but author Lisa Alther said:

The risk  you take if you change is that people you’ve been involved with won’t like the new you. But other people will come along who do.

Authenticity is really truthfulness at the very heart of who we are. It’s not just truthfulness to ourselves and to our sphere of influence, but more importantly, it’s the choice to carry the image of God created in us with integrity. Nothing else satisfies like being authentic to the Creation of the One who made us in His image.

Organisations will not maintain longevity or integrity without building into their structures a commitment to maintain and foster the creativity that comes from nurturing diversity. If you’re building an organisation, or operating in the inner workings of one, find ways to get rid of Groupthink and Silo leadership. Only in this way will you continue to grow and succeed.

Bev has been a senior church leader for more than three decades both in Australia and UK. Speaking internationally at churches and conferences, she is passionate about the need for strong, loving and effective Christian leaders to influence their worlds. Her insights into Church life and leadership have fitted her well to help churches and organisations transition well from one season to the next.

She has a Masters degree in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary USA, writes for various magazines and is the author of two books – Speak Life and Shut the Hell Up, and Catalysts:You Can Be God’s Agent For Change. She has mentored scores of leaders. If you’re interested in engaging her to help develop your leadership gifting to the next level, you can contact her at bevmurrill@icloud.com

Bev is the founder of Christian Growth International, Liberti Magazine UK, Cherish Uganda,  Kyria Network for women leaders UK and Australia, and  Scarlet Women. She has transitioned many of these organisations to new leaders with great effect and is often consulted regarding the principles of a good leadership transition.

If you are interested in having Bev speak at your conference, church or leadership team, you can contact her on bevmurrill@icloud.com or via this website.

Photo Acknowledgement: A Password Key? Dev.Arka from Flickr.com