You know how people get labelled, rightly or wrongly? It happens, right? What might you be being labelled for, that you are unaware of?
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Being Labelled: Background
In all my coaching work, I’m amazed at how little some executives concern themselves with their image. And how others see them. Of course we all encounter narcissists from time to time. And of course this is also dependent on our personalities and whether we’re more introvert or extrovert. However, many business leaders or those aspiring to be, disregard their visibility at their peril. What I often hear is “too busy doing and getting results to worry about that stuff”.
I often meet with a prospective coaching client’s boss before we commence a coaching program. That’s to hear from their perspective what areas of focus they think their leader might need to be coached on. The “labels” I often encounter in such conversations are quite remarkable. Labels the incumbent is usually blissfully unaware of when I raise or “test” them in our first coaching conversation.
So before we go on, perhaps you’ll just have a think of whether there might be any risk of what you might be “being labelled” for? You know, behaviours or positions or attitudes or prejudices?
How I Was Labelled
I have shared my own personal “being labelled” experience with many of my clients. In the first 10 years of my career after studying in Germany, I enjoyed a pretty steep and successful career growth path in my profession.
However, no matter how successful, I recognised that with the corporate leaders that really “mattered”, I was always going to continue being labelled as “the trainee”. A label I would find very difficult to “shake”. Both in South Africa and in the parent company in Germany.
And so I got myself head-hunted into SAB Miller, (then still called South African Breweries – Beer Division). And found none of these perceived “labels” existed.
The difference in company culture blew me away when I compared my new company with the more precise, structured and “formal” German organisation I had spent over 10 years with.
Your Visibility and Reputation
A significant emphasis in most of my coaching programs is the individual business person’s visibility, their credibility and reputation. And the resultant ability to leverage that for your ongoing success. You can’t argue with a track record, can you? If you’ve “delivered the goods” or exceeded expectations consistently, that is.
However, delivering the goods may not be enough, if it comes with perceptions or “labels” that work against that.
Notice I used the word perceptions. To the beholder, perception is reality. Prejudice prevails. Does that mean it has to be true? Of course not. But trying to convince someone else of its falsity can often be futile, right? You start defensively on your back foot – never a good place to start.
And so the “management of our image” and maintaining a solid reputation for the right things is an important, and unfortunately often disregarded part of any successful career.
Many of you know I advocate successful people surrounding themselves with “fetch people“, right? And of course being one yourself. That is, people that are “hungry”. That aspire to grow and develop. That want more.
But that’s not enough, if you don’t deliver.
One of the most fundamental facets of this is to be extremely consistent with (and protective) of your track record of doing what you said you would. And if possible, exceeding that. That’s a worthwhile label to have.
There are of course so many more, which I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of, do I?
Some Labels you don’t want
While what makes up the opposite may be pretty obvious, it’s amazing what people allow to “slip through”.
Some of the labels I’ve encountered and had to help professional people or leaders shake are:
- low EQ, or relatability
- lacking presence
- lacking self-awareness and the requisite successful people interaction sensitivity
- sensitivity of cultural and other differences or prejudices
- poor listening
- behaviour inconsistency that leads to a lack of trust
- not delivering the goods and then blaming others
- having to be the “hero” rather than delegating
- accepting mediocrity
Wherever you find yourself on the corporate ladder, your’e in control what you are known for. Albeit you’ll want to be very careful about who is filtering your messages. Of course there will always be “players” that are very adept at what I call “destructive politics”. We have to be “street smart” enough to be aware of them. And to marginalise their effect as much as we can. (That’s a coaching session all in itself).
What you can do
I’ve found “being connected” includes walking the floor. And talking to lots of people (being interested) . “Hearing what the goss is”. And seeking out certain trusted individuals that can give you honest feedback on any labels they see that could be affecting you. I’m sure you’d be happy to do the same for them, right?
I’m a great fan of people asking their boss in their (hopefully more than annual) review how they think people “see them” around the place. And from their perspective, where there might be risks or opportunities to improve your standing. Vendors, partners, even customers you’ve developed a solid relationship with can be very useful for this too.
Mentors can be very helpful here too. However, they need to be in a position that they can observe how you operate, preferably from within your organisation or your game. That’s not always easy to achieve – but worth pursing, as they are usually “on your team”.
Being Labelled – So What?
So has this sufficiently got your attention to merit some thought and research? To establish how you are seen? Generally? And by those that matter? Inside and outside of your organisation?
Do you know who they are? Where do they get their opinions (about you) from? Can you influence those sources?
What’s your social media presence? Are you actively using these platforms to present your thoughts and opinions towards things that matter? To you? To your organisation? To your industry?
My recommendation? Be serious about your image. About how you’re seen. Take the trouble to find out. And then pro-actively work on developing that reputation.
Be anally consistent about under promising and over delivering. But you also need to tell the right people about what you’ve done. Not blatantly or arrogantly. Subtly. Elegantly. Consistently.