In my most recent leadership blog, I promised to share an exercise that would help you find or better understand your identity within the context of leadership. It’s a two-step process.
First, answer the following question: “What three words or short phrases do you think the people closest to you would use to describe you?” Next, ask five people close to you to do the same thing. The words or phrases mentioned most often provide clues to your leadership identity.
If Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, engaged in this exercise, the three words used to describe him in the four accounts of the gospel might be “charismatic,” “impulsive” and “outspoken.” If John, another of Jesus’ disciples, did the same, his three words might be “sensitive,” “loving” and “loyal.”
After the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, Peter and John seemed joined at the hip in Acts chapters 3 and 4. They were together healing, teaching, in lock-up and in front of the Sanhedrin. But only one of them is quoted as addressing crowds and the Sanhedrin. We just have to look at the three words used to describe him—“charismatic,” “impulsive,” “outspoken”—to know that it was Peter, not John.
The point of the comparison is not to define Peter as a leader and John as a follower. The purpose is to align identity with the type of leadership Peter exercised. As we all know, different leaders express different styles of leadership.
But if we are talking about our identity, why is it important for us to know how others perceive us?
I’m sure many of us would resonate with a quote from Wilma Mankiller, a former chief of the Cherokee Nation: “One of the things my parents taught me, and I'll always be grateful for the gift, is to not ever let anybody else define me.”
If we define ourselves, why are we using the opinions of others to help us understand our leadership identity? This exercise is not so much about defining our identity as it is about understanding how our identity impacts our leadership. After all, leadership is influence.
How people perceive us determines how they interact with us—which, in turn, impacts our influence on them. We will explore that topic next.