In my most recent blog, I quoted a marketing strategist who defined branding to include: “This is what I am. This is why I exist.”
Leaders also have a brand that announces to those around them, “This is who I am.”
But just as important as knowing who you are is knowing who you are not.
We run into leadership challenges when our actions do not align with our identity. In my own experience as a leader and based on my observations of other leaders, people who do not lead well are not leading out of who they are (i.e. their identity).
In some cases, this disconnect between our identity and our leadership behaviors occurs because we are too fearful, too insecure or too inadequate (in our own minds) to be who we truly are.
In my first assignment at the manager level, my boss had to pull me aside after a few months to say, “You don’t have to tell them you’re in charge; they know you’re in charge.” Out of my own insecurity about who I was as a leader, I had been acting in a way (too directive, too controlling) that was inconsistent with my identity (which includes being easygoing). Needless to say, I was not leading well.
In other cases, the disconnect between our identity and our leadership behaviors occurs because we are told, through leadership literature, that we need to behave in a certain way to be a successful leader.
It would not be hard to imagine a young preacher from Houston observing the success of another young Texas preacher in Dallas and saying, “He’s so successful. I am going to lead like he does.” But it would be hard to imagine Joel Osteen being as successful as he is today if he had tried to behave like T.D. Jakes.
Each leader has his own style rooted and grounded in his own identity, yet each is hugely successful. So, for those of us who don’t fit the “classic” leadership model, take heart: We can be true to our identity and still be good leaders influencing people to good outcomes.
Next, we’ll discuss ways to discover our leadership identity and how to lead based on who we are rather than who we are not.