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  • Kelly Swingler

Labels and Boxes

During a coaching conversation last week my client told me they weren’t a creative person. The room I could see behind them during our video chat said differently. I could see a guitar, beautiful prints, bright colours, books, albums and more. I asked why they didn’t feel they were a creative person and they described how when they were at school they were useless at art and music. We explored where in their life they are creative and they came up with some brilliant examples of how they are creative in their work, their relationships, problem-solving and communication.


I remember having this same feeling of not being creative for years, and how I felt when I realised that creativity is much more than art and music. I’m a creative thinker, learner, person.


All too often, the labels we give to ourselves and others and the labels that other people give us throughout our lives, don’t truly reflect who we are. They can hold us back, restrict us and hinder us, they can also help us grow.


“You are not creative”, in the context it was given to me and my client, translated to, you could improve your artistic and musical skills, it doesn't mean that any of us lack creativity.

When I’m interviewing or running workshops, I always want to know who the person is behind the job title because thousands of us, millions maybe, are likely to have the same job title but there is only one of the person I’m speaking to.


I loathe the ‘what do you do?’ question that so many people ask when they first meet you in a business setting. Does that really give an insight into what drives me, who I am and what’s important to me?


Somehow in our organisations, we’ve moved away from people and focused more on labels and boxes, and this doesn’t really paint a true picture of the people we lead on a daily basis.

You may have found psychometric tests useful during a selection or development process, but to use your colour, or letter, or word as a way to define who you are or as an excuse for some of the ways you act or speak feels somehow disingenuous. I want to know who you are a person not by the colour or letter you’ve been given through ticking some boxes.


The label of leader is always an interesting one. We know that we have people with the title who don’t fulfil the role and we have people without the title who lead wonderfully. The label of leader doesn’t say who you are, what matters to you, what drives you or what gets you up in the morning. It doesn't say how you engage, communicate, inspire or motivate.


I posted last week about the vast number of surveys that seemed to be being sent out to people as we begin to transition to an open world again. A tick in a box doesn’t tell you what’s really going on for your people, what you might need to change, or what you might need to develop. It’s a tick in a box for one moment in time and it doesn’t give you the full picture. And if you're solely making decisions from the data in a box, you're missing what it really means to be leading people.


This year is Census year in the UK, and we’ll be ticking boxes about who we are, where we live, whom we live with, our age, our families and our professions, but what picture will that really paint when the information is pulled together and the statistics produced? Will the services and spend really be relevant and applicable to people or will we find ourselves again saying that what is available to us doesn't meet our needs?


Data can help to inform decisions and discussions, but that shouldn’t be all that we use. If we really want to understand our people, we need conversations, we need to understand and we need to listen.


We all have labels, we can all fit into a box, and yet we are so much more than the labels and boxes will allow for. I want to be understood as me. The labels and boxes may help us to identify our differences or similarities, but they don’t fill in the blanks.


I’d invite you to consider whether the labels you’ve been given truly reflect who you are? I’d invite you to think about the boxes you fit in, and then to consider what would be different if there were no box?


We’re not bottles and we’re not numbers, we’re people, and the parts that make us unique as individuals are usually not the parts that fit in the box.


As a leader, your role is to look past the labels and the boxes and to really discover who you are at the core.


Who is the unique you?

How can you use this unique you to be the best leader that you can be?

How can you use this unique you to help your people discover their unique selves?

What would change in the world of work if we used our uniqueness to the best of our abilities?

What would happen if we truly saw our people as the amazingly unique individuals that they are?

What would be different if we saw our people as people and we left the labels and boxes for the bottles?


Kelly

Kelly is an Executive Coach for CEO's and CPO's who want to change the world of work at kellyswingler.com and Founder of The Chrysalis Crew.

She leads and coaches with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can all love our roles, find balance in our lives and so that we can all change the world of work for the better.

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©2020 by Kelly Swingler. Part of Chrysalis Group Limited.