The perils of pigeon holing

March 08, 2018 by

“I can’t do it”, “they aren’t capable of doing that”, “he’ll never change”. Have you heard these phrases come out of your mouth? If you have, you might be susceptible to pigeon holing, limiting the potential of yourself and others.


What is pigeon holing? How does it create limits?

Pigeon holing is a form of mentally limiting our own potential or the potential of others. When we pigeon hole someone it limits the possibilities of what we believe that person can or can’t do. This can create restrictive boundaries around who people truly are and what they are rightly capable of. If you look at it in terms of mindset, pigeon holing is the opposite of a growth mindset, it’s fixed and limiting. As a leader, when you pigeon hole someone you limit them before they get the opportunity to show you differently.


Self-awareness is vital to exceptional leadership

Exceptional leaders are highly self-aware and work from a growth mindset to maximise the potential of, and to inspire others.

One step to improve self-awareness and move towards exceptional leadership is to check in on whether there are ways that we may be pigeon holing ourselves or members of our team. If we discover ways we may be pigeon holing our capabilities and behaviour choices or those of others, then we can start to make more informed choices about what we do differently.

At SRA we utilise DiSC as a profiling tool for leaders, like any profiling tool this process could easily lead to pigeon holing without the engagement of a growth mindset. When we employ DiSC, the most important learning that we are aiming for when working with leaders is not for them to know what their own style is, but to increase their awareness that we each have preference behaviours.

Self-aware leaders know their preference behaviours don’t suit everyone and therefore, endeavour to flex ie. choose different behaviours so not to pigeon hole or limit themselves. It’s this process that allows leaders to improve relationships with others and best lead them.


A lightbulb moment for leadership

To say “I’m not a natural people person” is to limit yourself and it demonstrates a resistance to adapting your style to that of different people. Ultimately, a pigeon holing mentality like this will limit leadership ability.

A lightbulb moment for leadership is when a leader identifies how they may be pigeon holing themselves (or others) and realises ‘I could change my behaviour’, ie. to intentionally flex to be more of a ‘people person’.

This realisation that you can be different to how you may have previously limited yourself, opens up your mindset, reduces limitations and allows you to see what you can do. It’s a lightbulb moment, creating breakthrough in the way you think and then behave. Prior to that breakthrough there’s no way forward – just a convenient excuse… ‘I’m not a people person, it’s up to HR’. Stopping pigeon holing empowers yourself and your team.


Less pigeon holing equals increased options

A direct benefit of being more aware of any potential pigeon holing is the wide array of choices that become available to you. When the limitations of pigeon holing are reduced, it allows you to be more flexible in how you choose to work with others and give them opportunities to maximise their own style and abilities.

Less pigeon holing takes the mindset from an assumed and closed off “that person can’t do that”, to an open growth mindset of “we can create the opportunity for that person to attempt to become more skilled in that”. By withholding from pigeon holing, you are able to maximise your own potential and that of others.


Sara Redman

Sara Redman is a Director of SRA Corporate Change, as well as a mentor, coach, facilitator, speaker, MC, and author.


Categories: Communication, Culture, Leadership, personal development, Sara Redman

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