Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Whether you have leadership responsibilities at work or home, leadership is tough. People often get thrown into leadership roles without any training, support, or development. As a result, we're left to figure things out on our own, and this can lead to developing some very bad leadership habits. One of these bad habits that I've witnessed, been guilty of, and even suffered from is what I call boxed leadership thinking. It happens at work, and as a parent, it happens at home.
What is Boxed Leadership Thinking?
We all like to be in control of our lives and the things around us. For many people, new and unknown things make us uncomfortable. We want things to "fit into a box." Fitting things into boxes makes everything consistent, neat, orderly, and above all else, it makes us feel in control. However, these control boxes have some far-reaching consequences and even detrimental effects that we don't often expect.
At work, boxed leadership thinking can affect quite a few dimensions of the office and business. Let's say, for example, you're dealing with a team of employees. As a leader, it's your responsibility to make sure your team performs. You need to understand each team member's capabilities. You need to understand who they are, their personalities, and what makes them tick. Great leaders make an effort to understand and know their employees. That allows the leader to maximize the efforts and performance of every team member. If you want to be a successful leader, take time to learn about your team. Hone your skills in understanding your team and their capabilities.
On the other hand, as leaders, we can quickly put our employees and team members into "identification boxes." These boxes give us control over our team and environment. These boxes allow us to execute the daily tasks the company needs us to perform. However, these boxes can also limit us from seeing and leveraging the full potential of our team. It can also stunt our organization's growth and development. As leaders, many times, we hold tasks and responsibilities in high regard and assign whom we think will best perform the job as we see it. While this sounds like a good think on the surface, it can prevent us from giving opportunities to other team members and allowing for their growth. People grow from facing challenges and struggles. It's these opportunities for growth that make our teams, team members, and ultimately our company stronger.
Now, I've worked on some excellent teams under some outstanding leaders, but every leader has their issues and shortcomings. Even the best leaders fall short in some areas. Even the best leaders, at times, put people in boxes. These boxes can prevent a good leader from listening, hearing, or receiving good ideas.
As a digital innovator and leader, I spent many hours interacting with non-digital thinking leaders. There was only one way to describe it. Grueling. I loved the company. I loved the people. I loved the job. But I was boxed. And not just by one leader. Every non-digital leader in the company (which included the CEO and 90% of the other leadership team) had me wrapped up in a neat digital box. Of course, this was during the season when companies were moving from brick-and-mortar to the online world, and I was responsible for leading our online transition. It wasn't easy. More than once did I hear the phrase, "when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail," referring to my propensity to bring digital into every business discussion and angle. My ideas and thoughts would usually be considered second class compared to other non-digital suggestions simply because many of my leadership peers didn't think or understand digital.
I've also been guilty of putting people in boxes. No matter how hard I try, it still happens. As leaders, we have a natural propensity to be in control of the situations around us. Sometimes that means putting people in boxes. Once you recognize this, it's a little easier to make adjustments. Your team will appreciate it.
Let me ask you to think about these questions:
Is there anyone at work that you've put into a box?
How is this limiting their potential?
How is it defining your relationship with them?
Putting people in boxes can also apply to your personal interactions with them. If you have negative encounters with a person a few times, you can subconsciously put them into a "they're not fun" or "they're difficult box." The negative encounters build negative emotions around that person, and before you know it, you've created a negative box and put them inside. From then on, your expectation of the person is to be negative, but the trick is you've started creating a self-perpetuating loop. You expect the encounter to be negative; therefore, it is. It takes a little work, but see if you can change that negative box into a positive one.
Speaking of relationships. Some of the most important relationships we have are in our homes with our families. The relationships we create with our children, our spouse, our brothers, sisters, moms, and dads can get boxed. Everyone in the home has a leadership opportunity. I believe the older the person in the home, the more leadership responsibility they have.
I have six children. I expect all of them to exercise leadership in our home at the appropriate level. We have 20+ kids in our neighborhood. I expect my kids to be leaders in the neighborhood and at school. 1/2 of my kids are introverts, and 1/2 are extroverts, but all of them are leaders in their own way. When watching my kids interact, boxed leadership is easy to find when they are playing out in their relationships with each other, at school, the neighborhood, and even with my wife and me.
My oldest sons put their younger siblings in boxes. They. They. They do this, do that. They shouldn't. My oldest sons put their sisters and younger brother into boxes. Probably the most interesting thing how they ignore the box their siblings placed around them. Each one of my children has exercised box leadership towards one another.
I have to confess that the worst application of boxed leadership thinking I've exhibited in my life has been towards my wife. We've been married for almost 22 years, but for 18 of our married years, I kept her in a box. I was the business and money guy. She was the stay-at-home mom. I seldom if ever engage about work, business, or money relating things with her. I never felt like she had anything to add to the conversation. I put her into a box, and it caused me many problems. Many, many problems.
However, after 17 years of marriage, I started to shift a little. I realized I needed to make some drastic changes, and some of that meant I needed to change how I viewed, treated, and interacted with my wife. I needed to begin "breaking down the box."
Combating Boxed Leadership Thinking
How do you deal with boxed leadership thinking?
I worked as a stock boy for many years during my teenage years. After we pulled out the items in the box and restocked the shelves, we broke down the boxes. We busted the boxes, then threw it into baler or trash. To deal with boxed leadership thinking, you need to break down the box.
Understand you're probably guilty of boxed leadership thinking. You've put someone in a box. Who is it? This applies to you as well. Have you put yourself in a box?
Next, think about how you can begin breaking down the box. Start by realizing a person's potential is amazingly complex, including yours. As a leader, how can you help to unleash someone's potential? Instead of focusing and limiting people based on boxes, bust the box and focus on maximizing potential.
Give people challenges and opportunities outside their "box" or comfort zone. Give them a chance to surprise you. This goes for your kids, your spouse, and yourself as well.
Boxed Thinking Affects Your Money
When it comes to money, boxed thinking is going to affect your financial life. You can't become a millionaire if you're living in a "poverty and paycheck to paycheck" box. You can only conform to the box where you live. You're stuck. If you want to change, you need to break the box you've put yourself in, and realize your full potential. Accept it.
Only after you break your financial box and accept your real potential to become a millionaire will you be able to accomplish the goal of becoming a millionaire.
If you're skeptical, I'm sorry. It's just the way it is. At 25, I was in a broke paycheck to paycheck box. I broke the box – millionaire at 40. My friend was five living in the "I can't get a candy bar because my parents don't have money" box. He broke the box – millionaire at age 25. I have another friend who lived in the "broke paycheck to paycheck" box and owed the IRS $80,000 in his 20s. He broke the box and became a millionaire in his mid-40s.
Don't let your current money and financial box limit your potential. Break down the box.