Labels abound in today’s culture. It seems we are always finding new ways to put each other in a box.
From political positioning to philosophical opinions, we too often find comfort in pigeonholing the people around us. We often have a natural tendency to assume that what we see is what we get, and to presuppose people’s strengths and weaknesses right off the bat. Particularly in leadership, we can be blind to how quickly we label those we work with. How we label and interact with those around us directly affects our work relationships, how we are viewed as leaders and ultimately the trust of our teams.
Excellent leadership simply falls into how you view people, how you engage them and how you build their trust.
In his TED talk, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” author Simon Sinek said, “Good leaders make you feel safe and offer a deep sense of trust… when we feel safe among our own, the natural reaction is trust and cooperation.”
What our teams need to know first is that you view and value each individual for who they are. But in order to do that, you need to see the unique set of talents and strengths that they bring to the table. Maybe you feel certain that you don’t label your team, but labeling doesn’t necessarily fall under the categories of racism and sexism. It can creep up on us in very subtle ways:
He’s simply incompetent.
Good grief, she’s dressed like she’s spending the day at a coffee shop.
She is always so loud.
Why is he so abrasive?
As a leader, have you ever found yourself using any of these labels within the workplace?
If you want your team to be unified and built on trust, it’s important that you see people apart from labels. Breaking past the barriers of labels will force you to look beyond the outer layer of those around you and consider that there may be much more to them than what meets the eye.
This seemingly harmless tendency to label others is so much a part of our human culture that you may be unsure of how to start. Consider these simple steps on how to lead without labeling:
- Bring everyone to the table. Avoid any cliquey tendencies you may have had in high school or college of only sitting and eating with certain types of people or personas. Mix it up. Make time for everyone, whether or not there is a natural connection.
- Don’t assume. If someone is the type to be shy in meetings, just because they aren’t speaking doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say. Don’t assume you know all an individual has to offer.
- Maintain a welcoming atmosphere. It’s easy for us to say hi to those we know and appreciate, but pay attention to whether you tend to avoid interacting with those you have assumptions of. A simple hello is an invitation to easily start a conversation or get to know someone on your team you may not speak with otherwise.
- Call out the best in everyone. This starts with seeing the best in everyone. Once you have taken the time to see beyond the labels you’ve created for people, take the opportunity to spotlight the strengths in them that others on your team may not notice otherwise.
- Create room to listen. When we make assumptions about people, we tend to talk more than listen. Stop to listen more, to understand beyond the labels you’ve placed on them.
As the leader, your approach to relationships, team meetings, commitments, and promises hold a great weight. Call it a case of following the leader, but most team members aren’t quick to be inclusive of all personality types if you continually invite the same five people out to lunch.
Break the barriers that labeling has placed on your leadership and your team, and you may discover your team and potential is much more than you have assumed.
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the President of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and is the author of "Framework Leadership." A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the president of one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. As president, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership at the university and is also a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern’s president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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