FIRST CLASS COACH - I feel pigeon-holed in my job. Because I'm good at the detail, I'm always given roles that require that kind of skill and never the more creative, bigger-picture kind of work. How can I move out of this rut?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I feel pigeon-holed in my job. Because I'm good at the detail, I'm always given roles that require that kind of skill and never the more creative, bigger-picture kind of work. How can I move out of this rut?

Typecasting is endemic in the world of business, and highly counter-productive for organisations that depend on us being at our energetic, motivated best. To be at the top of our game, most of us need roles that stimulate and stretch us, and this requires greater flexibility than most employers characteristically provide.

Of course, it is not surprising that a manager, seeing a team member doing a job very well, will be tempted to heave a sigh of relief that somebody's doing something right and dish out more of the same. And if you cheerfully shoulder the next, very similar project, the boss can be forgiven for missing the fact that you would like to do something different.

Getting out of the rut is possible, as long as you are prepared to act and think a little differently. For, to paraphrase Einstein, one definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing and to expect a different result.

Let's start with the way you think about yourself. Do you feel a victim of the way the organisation treats you, or is it just a question of not yet having had an opportunity to show what you are capable of? In my experience, people who feel aggrieved that their companies don't recognise and reward their potential sometimes prefer to stick with that feeling rather than do anything to change the situation.

There are three keys to getting a different result: first, be clear about precisely what you want, and what that will bring both you and the organisation.

Second, start to behave in ways consistent with the result you want to create; and, third, communicate well with those involved in the change.

Thinking about the change you want, is it an entirely new role or is it just to start doing more of a particular type of work? If the former, it's useful to have a reality check to see if you've got what it takes to do that new job well. Unless a particular professional qualification is a prerequisite for the work, you may well already have all you need, barring some experience and the confidence that comes from having done it successfully a few times. If you need some specific knowledge, you may be able to acquire it by reading a book, or asking intelligent questions of your friends and colleagues, or, failing that, by online learning or other courses.

There will be several possible routes for making the change. These could include raising the subject at your next review to enlist your boss' help in shifting your role to the new area. A good preparation for the transition you have in mind is to start demonstrating your creativity and big-picture thinking in the role you play now. Be alert to opportunities elsewhere in the company: there may be a project you could volunteer for or a department you could be seconded to, which would bring you some exposure to the area in which you are interested.

Whether at the top or the bottom of an organisation, making a significant change to the work you do can be a challenge. Recently, I worked with a woman who was so valued as assistant to a top TV producer that her boss threatened to resign if she was promoted. Though she left that job, her subsequent career involved a series of supporting roles for the great and the good. Now she's decided that she wants to lead a team in her own right and is making the necessary changes to how she thinks of herself and positions herself, so that others will too.

At the other end of the scale, a few years ago a client of mine was a potential candidate for the job of CEO of a large media company, but a question mark hung over his head. He had a reputation as an effective axe man, responsible for rationalisation of merged businesses, for downsizing and increasing productivity. The trouble was that his efficiency in that role made his colleagues doubt his credentials for building and running a large creative business. Our work together encouraged him to let the iron mask slip a little, to show his humanity (which was abundant, but well hidden) to his colleagues, to share his vision for what the company could become. He got his promotion and became a thoroughly rounded leader - as I was very gratified to discover when I recently interviewed several members of his management team.

So, don't be discouraged: if you really want things to change, you can change them. Developing your self-belief and demonstrating your less apparent talents in relevant and appropriate ways is the start of creating a more satisfying future.

Miranda Kennett is managing coach at The Coaching House ( and a founding partner of The Management Due Diligence Co. If you have an issue you'd like this column to cover, e-mail:

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