Leadership: Leading Beyond the Labels

Corporate and business labels come in all forms — job titles, organizational units, processes, functions, acronyms, and so forth. Labels clarify, organize, and communicate. Labels can also limit development, possibilities, and empowerment. The leadership challenge is leading beyond the labels.

Leadership: Leading Beyond the Labels Image by: Bene

Labels can speed communication and understanding. Can you imagine the frustration of having to repeatedly describe in detail something that could be said with one label that everyone quickly grasps? Ironically, that same label can shut down listening, questioning, discussing, and innovating — if you let it.

Leading Beyond the Labels

  1. Ask yourself: Are you and/or your teams using labels to limit or to explore? Listen carefully for instances of building boundaries out of labels. Spotting this trend early and correcting can reduce engrained change resistance.
  2. Check for “should” and “only” in your mind and in your words. One of the easiest ways to spot labeling to limit is to ask yourselves are you thinking/saying limiting thoughts as you use a label. This team member is only a _________ (job title/label). This step should be done by _________ (department/label).
  3. What’s the risk of not limiting vs. limiting? Leadership requires assessing risks. If the risks of not limiting are great, you will likely go with labeling to limit to minimize risk. Else, avoid it.
  4. Labeling people, even positively, builds more limits than talents. Counteract this effect with cross-teamwork, developmental assignments, and team building activities that explore beyond the labels.

Labels are alluring to many
. They make things clear, tangible, — and comfortable. Hence the true danger. Don’t accept this comfort. Question it. Challenge it. Counteract it. Succeed by leading beyond the labels.

What would you add to this list to limit the limiting effects of labels? I welcome your thoughts in the comments field below. Add your voice!

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. For permission to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, turns interaction obstacles into business success. Now in 23rd year of business, Kate delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, customer service, customer experience, and teamwork. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

13 Responses to “Leadership: Leading Beyond the Labels”

  1. Wally Bock says:

    I love the questions you suggest here, Kate. Human beings use labels naturally but rarely consciously. Your key question “Are we using labels to limit or explore?” can help make things visible that were once hidden.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Exactly Wally. Everyone uses labels — yet with one simply question we can limit the damaging effects w/o losing the benefits. Thanks for adding your voice on this one. I always welcome your insights.

      Best and have a great week,

  2. Great post Kate! Labels help us determine levels of responsibility and authority (like CEO or CFO) but leadership is always defined by our actions not our titles.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Joan, you as a CEO, are the best at summarizing things into one concise statement — and it rings out loud and clear in this post.
      Thanks you!!

  3. Shawn Murphy says:

    Kate, you’ve offered to us an important reminder. We use labels to make sense of surroundings, interactions, and so on. Unfortunately, in doing so we collapse what is with what we label it to be. And this often means overlooking what is and accepting our own interpretation as truth.

    And so glad to see item #4 – labeling people, even positively.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Well said Shawn — “when we label we collapse what is with what we label it to be.” I am grateful for your addition to this post. Many thanks!

  4. Love this post Kate! Your insight into how we have a tendency to use labels as a way to limit and hem people in is refreshing. The accountability that can come with certain labels is great, but they have their limitations.

    Thanks for bringing balance to the subject!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      That is interesting William. It is rare that someone says labels bring accountability — yet you are right. The flip side is that people may assign tasks by those labels to reduce their own accountability. Balance, as you say, is the key.
      Thanks for your “add” on this post.

  5. Well done Kate. I don’t like to use labels (although I know I do) because they are always in some degree wrong. Why use anything that you know is flawed? The only reason I can think of is because you don’t have anything better. So we must always change our labels to fit facts and never toss information because it doesn’t fit the label.


  6. Great post, Kate. I’m also enjoying the insightful comments being left by our shared acquaintances/colleagues.

    One thing I would add to the wonderful discussion underway is the importance of recognizing that labels only define our perception of a person’s role or function, their abilities, and so forth. By the very nature of how we ascribe labels, we’re essentially only referencing that which is either most apparent to us or that which is most important/valued.

    By recognizing that labels help to contextualize only our perception, and not the full scope of an individual or situation, it’s easier to make efforts to rely not solely on such labels to determine what we communicate, who we collaborate with, and how we serve those under our stewardship.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      What you describe Tanveer is also the preventive cure for tunnel vision. Such a great addition to this post. Many thanks!

  7. Kate,

    I have to admit my guilt in not reading your articles in a while, but I can promise you it’s not due to lack of substance. All of the above comments are right on target in allowing labels to limit or tunnel innovation. Innovation requires us to be outside the box; on a continuous quest for something we may never reach.

    Thanks again for a great article!

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