Do you label your employees?

I have a silly interest in people watching: I like to see how they dress, how they behave, what is unique in them, their gestures and interactions.

At the end I always catch myself thinking if I could change something so they would look more professional, or teach them some manners so they would speak softer and the whole subway station would not know about “how mad they are with the cable company”, or even tell them to give their seat to the elderly woman that is standing just beside them and can barely hold herself while the subway crowd rushes in and out in each station.

When we observe people we immediately judge them based on how they look, speak, move, and then… and stick a label on them.

Going a little deeper on this thought, I remember several years ago, when one of my friends was simply devastated after talking to our high school counselor.

She was an average “C student” and did not really care about school, however, she had dreams for herself, she wanted to become a business advisor one day.

In talking to the counselor, she heard that she’d be better trying to be a greeter somewhere (no offense to the profession) because she did not have what it took to go to college (yeah…the counselor even tried to make it sound better by acknowledging her “people skills”).

On a different case, Walt Disney was told he was not creative enough to make a career in commercial art, and Shaquille O’Neal was told (at 13) that he was “too big, too slow and too clumsy” to pursue his dream of playing basketball.

Those are excellent examples of how people can be “labeled” by others and end up giving up before even trying to go after what they really want and love. The ones that succeed, do so because they are strong enough to change their labels.

It is so common that it happens, that many times, we end up labeling ourselves!

We develop the thought that we cannot be successful because we are not competent enough, because we stop believing that “WE CAN DO IT”.

Now…are we labeling our employees? Or are we making sure that we motivate them to grow?

Are we holding them back because they are too quiet or too loud; too fast or too slow, because they blend too much or stand out too much?

What kind of opportunities are we giving our employees to show us what they can really do, how they can really perform?

Here are some takes from my experience:

1-  Do not judge appearances: yes, at some degree one’s wardrobe reflects one’s personality, however there are other factors that make one dress in a way or another such as confidence, interest, budget.  Instead you can observe if one follows dress code – that will tell you that they accept rules and can adapt to business needs.

2-  Don’t’ confuse kindness for weakness: some people are just naturally kind and caring and that does not mean that they are weak, or not able to perform, be firm and be held accountable ( or on a different not, hold others accountable).

3-  Do not take silence for ignorance: if one does not speak out during meetings it does not necessarily mean that they do not have knowledge of the subject. It might only mean that one is shy.

4-  Snapping might be a sign that you are managing them way to close (super micro managing), breathing down their neck…

5-   Be attentive for cultural differences: gestures, words, expressions might shy away some of your employees that are from other parts of the world. For example: the sign made with “circle made with the indicator finger and thumb” that is interpreted in the US as “ok sign”, in Venezuela, giving that sign might be interpreted as if you are saying that person is homosexual, and in Brazil…well, a really bad thing…

The list goes on and on, but what I really mean is: look for the real strengths in each member of your team, motivate them to work hard for what they like and want to do, give them tools to grow and shine, and remember that putting the wrong label on someone, is not only lack of responsibility, but really bad leadership!

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