The Danger of Using Labels
Until recently, globalism was hailed as a positive development.
Until recently, movement across country borders was doable and often welcome.
Until recently, walls, physical and mental, were torn down not built up.
So, what changed?
The human race seemingly has reached a tipping point. What seemed normal during the last 70 years doesn’t seem normal any longer. Some are ecstatic, some are distraught. That’s the way of change.
But what does leadership have to do with it?
You are looking to your leaders to make the right decisions on your behalf. I believe leaders generally do try to make the best decision possible, even if it might not look like that to you. Either way you have no control over decisions others make, even about you. Often decisions are made based on labels that others put on you.
What is the possibility that you are being insulated and limited due to one of those labels? What is the possibility you are being discriminated against? And what is the possibility that you are discriminating by putting labels on your employees, clients, leadership etc.?
This is exactly where leadership comes in.
In a conversation with a client this week, he brought the dilemma of choice: Should he promote a long-time employee and reward her, even though she didn’t seem to really fill the skill set? Or should he hire externally for the skill set, not knowing if the new hire would fit the culture and not knowing what demoralizing effect the new hire would have on the trusted employee and her team? He described the two options with labels: The Entrepreneur (new hire) and the Traditionalist (long-time employee). How would you decide?
While you ponder the answer to that question, ponder these as well:
Given the choice, would you hire a German or a Jew?
Given the choice, would you hire a Catholic or a Muslim?
Given the choice, would you hire a man or a woman?
Given the choice, would you hire a 60-year old or a 30-year old?
Given the choice, would you hire a Republican or a Democrat?
Given the choice, would you hire a gay or a straight person?
This list could be continued to infinity. And depending on what label you identify and associate with, you will make certain assumptions about the other.
Is the Other Guilty by Association?
This is the stuff stereotypes are made of. And you (and I) are quick to judge based on your past experience, on the stories you have heard, on what you imagine.
You, the leader, are in the business of making judgments, not judging. ~Daniela Bryan
If you rashly judge others, and I include myself in this, then what is the possibility that others are doing this to you? Putting labels on you? Judging you for things that might not be true and might not have anything to do with you? The possibilities are infinite!
Let me give you a personal example: Sixteen years after World War II ended, I was born in Germany and to two Germans. Over 70 years after the war ended, I am still being judged for crimes the tribe of my ancestors committed. I am being judged by association. In reality, my grandfather was an instrumental part of the resistance, but to some that doesn’t matter. I am labeled as a German and I am still held accountable for actions taken before I was born. I refuse to accept this label for myself and yet I still come across it, now even more often than during the last 30 years.
Ask yourself, do you do this to people?
As a leader you have power and influence. People look to you for guidance to discern what is right and wrong, how they should act, what they should model to others. You are in the business of making decisions, but be careful of how you judge people.
So, what to do?
There is only one label I will accept and that I suggest you accept for yourself and others.
The Only Label
Human. You are a human. And others are human — the people that you work for, the people that work for you, your associates and friends, your family members and your ancestors.
It’s what we all have in common. Being human.
That’s it. Almost every other label you are tempted to put on someone is an assumption, a snap judgment of the other:
A high achiever or a procrastinator
A type A personality or loser
A sales person or an engineer
A creative or a planner
They are all humans with different skill sets. And the combinations of skills are as unique and manifold as one can imagine. So let me ask you:
Are you modeling being a human to others?
Are you treating others around you as humans?
Are you speaking up for humanity in the workplace and outside?
In other words, do you lead by example? And if you don’t, could it be time to start?
What are your experiences in regard to labels? Drop me a note if you feel judged.