It takes strength to be the minority voice in a majority crowd.
Most of us have had to stick to our guns, express a point of view, or remain firm about what we believe is the right course of action in the face of a dissenting majority. I know that in my 30 years at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), I have faced my own fair share of personal and professional hurdles. And quite literally, women have been the minority in almost every room I’ve occupied in any business setting around the world.
So it may surprise you to learn that I do not find being in the minority—in thought, in ethnicity, or in gender—to be a disadvantage. In fact, I’ve always considered my ability to summon the courage and provide an alternative point of view to be a powerful advantage. There are two main ways I’ve learned to harness this power:
Redirect your efforts from what everyone else is doing to what you should be doing
Doing away with the urge to go with the flow and re-channeling that energy to things that you really believe in is a fundamental lesson that I first learned in business school.
Women constituted less than 30% of my graduating b-school class, and the overall environment was a very vocal and competitive one. A professor of mine noted the fact that I was not one to frequently raise my hand in class. He told me simply that less is more, as long as I could deliver quality to make up for the lack of quantity.
That’s one of the best pieces of career advice I’ve ever received. When I relieved myself of the pressure to follow the crowd, I was able to refocus my energy to take actions that better played to my own unique strengths. This was an important and early lesson on delivering substance (with your own style) to move the room.
Surround yourself with colleagues who recognize your weaknesses—and aren’t afraid to point them out
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re often blind to how our weaknesses impact our performance and seldom recognize that we need help from others. This is where the people who understand us inside and out—both our weaknesses and our strengths—can become our greatest assets.
One of my most influential mentors was the first female consultant ever at BCG and had all the qualities I admired most: keen smarts, along with the ability to be firm and direct, all while remaining empathetic. During a particularly busy point early in my career, I felt I had reached my limits midway through a high-powered client engagement with a financial institution.
My mentor gave me direct feedback and made me see how I was sabotaging myself. I wasn’t taking control of my own calendar, let alone my team. And I was getting bogged down not just by the details of the engagement, but by the story of how we should get things done. My mentor forced me to take a step back, evaluate the issues, and bring my strengths to bear on effectively finding solutions for my client.
Regardless of our gender, ethnicity, or views, there will come a time when we need to stand up for our opinions in a room full of people who may not necessarily see things our way. It takes strength to be the minority voice in a majority crowd. But it can also make a real impact.
This article was originally published on Fortune.com.