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How to Avoid Pigeon Holing Yourself For Greater Career Success

How to Avoid Pigeon Holing Yourself For Greater Career Success

by | Oct 21, 2019 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning |

Do you ever feel like you’re pigeon-holed at work? You’re nailing your role and have a track record of career success. In fact, you’re known as the best ______ there is.  So, how do you get others to recognize that you have more to offer? What’s the secret to broader career success?

When I reflect back on my corporate days, I’m so grateful to leaders who took a chance on me. I held leadership roles across multiple functions: human resources, contact centers, service management, marketing, training, sales, and national operations.

I’m often asked, “How did THAT happen?”

“WHY did you get a chance to lead teams in areas you knew so little about?”

I’m grateful to wonderful mentors and sponsors, who saw something more. So, how do you get noticed for your larger abilities and skills? How do you get others to see you and take a chance?

3 Ways to Get Out of Your Own Pigeon Hole for Greater Career Success

It starts by getting as much experience as you can. Volunteer for special projects. Serve on a committee. Take a field trip to other departments. Build relationships. Offer support. Ask a lot of questions. Build your reputation as a utility player. Show up generous, supportive and interested. Beyond that, I’d recommend focusing on these three areas to expand your career success.

1.Think and speak more broadly about the business.

The best piece of advice my boss gave me in my very first HR role was to learn to “talk trucks.”

This means don’t use words like “headcount” or “attrition.” Instead, talk about how the impending snowstorm will delay deliveries and how to ensure you have the right people in place so that nothing will be out of stock. If you’re in sales, talk about the downstream impact that anticipated spike in revenue will have on your contact centers.

If you’re an IT guy, spend time understanding why employees are frustrated with your system instead of telling them why they shouldn’t be. Of course, you want to show up as an expert in your own area of expertise—that’s your job. And, if you want to stand out as ready for something different, be sure to also really get the bigger picture.

2. Groom your replacement.

If you’re indispensable, you’re indispensable—meaning if you’re absolutely the only one who can do what you do, or think as you think, it will feel too risky to move you somewhere else. As you’re looking to position yourself for new opportunities, be sure you’re preparing your team to Win Well without you.

3. Watch how you’re talking about yourself.

Years ago, I attended a diversity workshop with an exercise designed to get us thinking about labels. We all were handed a stack of sticky labels and a marker. The first step was to list all the labels that we used to describe ourselves. We then placed these labels on our shirts and walked around and talked about how we felt. The next step was to have others create labels for us based on how they saw us.

We were then asked to wear those stickies and walk around the room and invite people to add to their thoughts.  This led to others giving us really nice labels (nice, kind, smart)… and a big group hug at the end. I must admit that this was a bit corny, even for the HR gal (yup, one of the labels I was given).

I often think about this exercise when I’m working with managers who are feeling pigeon-holed or stagnated. What labels are they putting out in the world? How aware are they about the labels others are putting on them, and what are they doing to change the conversation?

When you see a need it’s easy to rely on our tried and true labels,

“Oh, I can do that, I’m the ____ woman.”

“Leave it to me, I’ve got years of experience doing __.”

If you want others to see you differently, maybe it’s time to add some new labels to the mix,

“Did you know I also have experience with ______?”

“I just worked on a special project where we did exactly this…I can help.”

One Final Thought

Finally, if you interested in a lateral move to stretch and challenge you as you grow your career, be sure you let people know. Talk about your intentions and why the would be good for the business, not just in terms of your own career success. You can download this FREE Developmental Plan Discussion Planner to help you prepare.

If you’re like many managers we work with, you have more power and influence over your career than you may think. Today is the perfect time to start a deeper conversation.

See Also: How Do I Stop My Boss From Treating Me Like a Kid

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


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