Man in a box


No, this is not about the Alice in Chains song. This is about being boxed in as a professional. I feel it’s one of the most dangerous professional development traps for young people. Don’t worry, it’s not the end of your career, but it can certainly stall things if you’re not careful.

‘The box’ is kind of like being typecast as an actor. When an actor gets known for playing a certain type of role it’s hard for them to land other parts. The same happens in the professional world. When a worker proves they’re good in a certain role it can become difficult for them to move into another position.

Consider, what do you like about your favorite typecast actor? Leave a comment below.

If you don’t advocate for what you want then someone else may end labeling you. For example, let’s say you’re your company is about to open a new division. It will likely need a group of strong leaders who are adept at project management. Senior executives might ask, “Who’s good at project management?”

Assess, what are you most known for in your organization? Share below!

Bob Smith might be good at project management. He may also not want to be known for just his project management skills and is in the process of developing other skills. This might not be the greatest opportunity to build new strengths if he has to keep “bringing out the same hammer” (one of my peers coined this) as he’s always done. In other words he’s been typecast or placed in a box. Here’s how to avoid ‘the box.’

  1. Take professional development seriously. If you have a Professional Development Plan or Individual Development Plan, make sure it is up to date and you are tracking well on it. Do a weekly, monthly or quarterly check/update if you need to.

  3. Utilize mentorship to help you grow. Talk through your PDP or IDP with him/her/them. See what they can teach you and if they can help you grow in those areas.

  5. Find your personal brand advocates. These are people who know you’ve got what it takes and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you. Part of the exercise is to get known for something and we all need help spreading the word.

In the past I’ve been typecast or boxed in. Different roles in different organizations but the same process still applied. In one organization I was pegged as the analyzer, the critical thinker. In another organization I was the relationship guy, the connecter. The common thing is that it was all relative to my peers. Those are the strengths that stood out in those groups when we stood side by side. I clearly see how I fit into those roles during my early days as a manager and as a professional.

How about you, have you ever been in ‘the box’? Have you written your script and sat in the director’s chair successfully? Leave a comment below!

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