“… of the most important lessons I learned about leadership from Walt Disney; don’t pigeonhole anybody! You never know what talented people can do if you give them a chance – if you are willing to take a chance.” – Marty Sklar
Granted not too many people know what a pigeonhole is these days so let me start with a simple definition of the verb: to assign a definite place; to type cast.
As leaders it is easy to fail to see people’s giftings and talents beyond their current job. Think about they way we look for new hires. We start our search for someone who has done the job before. This also causes us to look over others for promotion. Perhaps the accountant of twenty years would excel in sales or as a trainer they just need the opportunity to try something new.
When Walt Disney needed workers to start building Disneyland he started with the employees he already head. He turned to the designers, animators and movie set directors to take on the task. Many of them looked at Walt with confusion when he gave them their new assignments. Walt had the strong ability to see the talent in others they did not see themselves and he was willing take the risk to see them excel in new areas.
Avoid the Pigeonhole
- Start with an honest conversation – Take time to truly know the heart and desires of those you lead. Is there another career path they want to be on? A great question to ask is, “If there were no obstacles (time, money, training etc.) what would you be doing?”
- Provide cross training – Last year while attending Walt Disney World I took a behind the scenes tour of the Magic Kingdom. The tour guide worked in two unrelated roles. Her role in Guest Relations (where she was the tour guide) was not what she was originally hired for but it was one in which she was a greater asset to the company. Be willing to let your employees take on tasks in other departments or take on different roles in their current team.
- Learn to see beyond the job title – Train yourself to recognize hidden talents. Don’t let someone’s current title blind you from seeing someone’s greater potential.
- Be willing to take a chance – Your next star team member may be working currently in a different role. You also have to be willing to take the risk of loosing a a current star but you might open up a spot for someone who is a better fit.
When we refuse to pigeonhole those we lead we leave the door open to help them find the right place where they can truly excel. That place may be in a new role on our team or we can help them make the move to better career for them. It also opens the door for us to find that perfect hidden gem for our team.
The Marty Sklar quote is from his book, One Little Spark: Mickey’s Ten Commandment and the Road to Imgineering