Reading in the airport while waiting for a flight to Houston, a housekeeper was tidying around me when approached by another facilities employee. After a few minutes of easily overheard chit-chat, she received coaching from her now apparent supervisor.

“You know,” he said “I\’d like you to pace yourself.” Intrigued by his words, I stopped reading to eavesdrop and heard as he told her, “You\’re doing too good a job. You don\’t need to work this hard.” “I like my area clean and looking good for everyone,” she said, confused by his direction. “Anyway, I get all my work done.”

When they parted several minutes later, her body language was not one of relief, but despair. Clearly a person taking pride in her work, the boss\’s unfolding message was not about a perfectionist who didn\’t get her work completed, but someone setting the standard too high for everyone else.

It reminded me of a young man who approached me after a conference speech. He told me he was doing well at work and was up for promotion. But it bothered him that his friends weren\’t progressing too, and the dynamics between them had shifted. Conflicted about leaving his teammates behind, he wasn\’t sure about the promotion.

There are two choices to your work. You can fit in and stay comfortably in the pack, nourished by mediocre sameness where your gifts and talents may remain on life\’s unfilled-potential-shelf for fear of out-shining or outperforming those you work with; or you can realize people are not the same and show up as who you are.

People who are winning at working choose the second path. As they do, they raise the bar for all of us. They push us, challenge us, and inspire us to show up with our passions, skills, abilities and dreams. They have the courage to shine, and their modeling encourages us to bring our own gifts to this challenging world.

For people who are winning at working, their work is about becoming who they are capable of becoming, and they help others do the same.

Your talents are different from mine which are different from his and from hers. You do some things better than others; others do some things better than you. And the powerful, and exciting part is this: when we use our individual differences we collectively shine.

I hope that housekeeper keeps her passions alive and her vision of a comfortable, inviting, clean respite for the weary traveler, a standard for herself. If she does, others will follow her uncommon self-leadership.

I hope that young man embraces his promotion, realizing sometimes friends change; or sometimes we best help our friends and those that we love achieve their dreams, by achieving our own.

(c) 2009 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, and speaker. Her career insights column, Winning at Working (www.winningatworking.com ) regularly appears on over eighty websites; and her life-reflections column, In the Scheme of Things (www.intheschemeofthings.com) is published in six states and Canada. Her work has been selected to appear in several anthologies. To sign up for Nan's free eColumn(s), or read more about Nan or her work, visit: www.nanrussell.com.