Labels suck! I can remember working for a man who once labeled me as a certain type of person, and for the entire time I worked for him, he never let me out of that box. The label, untrue or not, stuck. I would come home frustrated because no matter how much I changed over the tenure of our working relationship, I couldn’t break out of the box he had put me into. The label had been sealed, and there was no tearing it off in his mind.
I recently wrote about how one label, ISTJ, changed my leadership abilities. (Read “How 4 Letters and 15 Minutes Changed My Ability to Lead a Team“.). It is a label I proudly wear because I understand the parts of the label that are strengths, and I know how to overcome the parts that are weaknesses. But I caution anyone who leads a team to never box someone in with a label.
You can outgrow your personality.
While I am an introvert by nature, I absolutely love speaking in front of large groups of people. I’ve loved giving speeches since high school. Give me a topic and 30 minutes to prepare, and I’ll gladly get up on stage. I’m an award winning speaker (if you count the medals I won in the glory days of my youth!).
I may be an introvert, but as long as I’m a prepared introvert, I love sharing ideas with others. Speaking to large groups is a controlled environment. I can usually predict the questions I’ll receive ahead of time, and I know the responses to give if someone stumps me. So I am literally never stressed to go on stage. I love the adrenaline. I love the energy. I love watching people write down a new idea as I’m sharing with the room.
Making cold calls as part of a sales team, however, used to be another story!
I can remember taking a marketing job that was really a sales gig in disguise. Shortly after taking the role, I learned I was responsible for going out to companies and convincing them to use our services. I was also responsible for going door-to-door visiting businesses in town to tell them about our services.
It was a far cry from the marketing world of sales copy, brochures, websites, and trade shows I had grown accustom to as a marketing professional. It was the world of sales.
I will never forget the first time I went on a sales call. I had prepared and prepared and prepared to go in and present our product. I arrived 30 minutes early to the company, and I sat in my car, giving myself a pep talk about how I could do it. I pep talked myself so much, I almost turned the car around and called to cancel the appointment.
But I had rent to pay, and I couldn’t afford to lose my job. So I convinced myself to get out of the car.
I wish I could say I gave a stellar presentation. In truth, I bombed. I knew nothing about sales. I didn’t know how to answer most of his questions. I left feeling defeated. But I will never forget the lessons I learned from the experience.
It would take me six more months, two amazing ladies in our community who I took on as my mentors in sales, and a complete comfort and understanding of what I was selling, before the pep talks to get out of the car finally stopped, and I was able to just do my job.
That last sentence is key.
Despite being an introvert, I found a way to succeed in a role I was never born to do.
My current mentor has told me multiple times what an accomplishment that was. At the time, I had no clue I was an ISTJ. I had no clue I was overcoming a part of my personality that holds so many people back. I just needed to make rent, and there wasn’t another job to jump to.
Looking back almost a decade later, it’s amazing to realize I would go on to teach many more people, both on my own team and across the country at conferences, how to do the job I was once beyond petrified to do myself.
Labels are great. I am an ISTJ!
My dream is not to be a door-to-door salesman, but you better believe I can do it. I know the process and preparation it takes for me to overcome my inner-introvert.
So use labels as they’re intended…as a warning. A warning that you may need to give people different tools and resources to be successful. Not as a warning that they’re incapable of achieving something.
I retract my opening statement. Labels don’t suck when they’re used as a foundation to help people grow into more than they ever dreamed was possible.