Do you want to stand out or fit in? The key influence hack to help you feel powerful

I have a Gold Star syndrome. As a kid I always wanted to be first, to win the prize, and to be the best student. I was thrilled when I got called out as an example for others. This competitive edge served me well in terms of academic and career achievement: I worked hard to get good results. It caused endless suffering when someone else did better than me, usually it was my school aged nemesis, Susan, and I was no longer the star. This drove me nuts.

I also have a powerful need to belong, be part of something, a member of a tribe. The need to stand out sits alongside the even bigger need to feel like I belong. This too can be paralysing, even as an adult.

Every three months, I meet up with my peers at the Thought Leaders Business School community. There are 150 highly successful, fiercely driven, confident business professionals in the room. And every time, this triggers all of my inner child pathologies: “Will I fit in? Will they like me? Where is my place here? Will I be the star pupil?”

There’s a paradox that exists in human social dynamics: the simultaneous need to both stand out and fit it. It harks back to basic social drivers: to belong to the family, and to feel cherished and prized at the same time.

Feeling like we don’t belong can drive us in to a shell, shrinking our visibility and hence our influence.

Wanting to stand out can push us to objectionable behaviour: pettiness, arrogance, and grandstanding. This alienates others.

When it comes to influence, if we let our basic human needs turn in to pathologies, we sabotage ourselves.

The single best cure I have found for these ailments is this:

Help others.

If we are trying to stand out, or feeling left out, we are immersed in our inner world, disconnected.

When we reach out, our focus shifts to others. The kryptonite of selfishness and self-obsession drops away, and we become immediately more compelling. If we help others, we also get the bonus effect of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. We do good, and we feel good. When we feel good, we emit warmth. Warmth is one of the key factors in charisma and influence.

If we get known as someone who gives support, we get valued. We both stand out and fit in, not because of performance, but for heart. That kind of influence uplifts all.


Zoë is on a mission to encourage big thinkers with big hearts to make a big difference. She is passionate about showing leaders how to improve their ability to connect, build unified teams and expand how they serve in the world.

With over 30 years experience developing leaders, she has published “Composure: How Centered Leaders Make the Biggest Impact” and “Moments: Leadership When It Matters Most.”