Defining Leadership Identity
Whether I’m working with emerging or senior leaders, when I discuss leadership identity, a lot of questions come to the surface. Emerging leaders often ask: “What is my leadership identity? How do I create it? What does it mean to my leadership path and career?” Meanwhile, senior leaders often ask: “How do I further leverage my leadership brand? How do I continue to make an impact in my organization? How do I fill in gaps to ready myself for even greater leadership?”
Let’s take a look at the big picture.
Leadership identity is your presence in your work—and in the world. This is about your physical and mental presence, your attitude, and your readiness to take on new challenges and make an impact. It’s how you “show up” every day and for every interaction. Do you show up looking the part of a leader, acting the part of a leader, and with the attitude of a leader? Are you ready for the next opportunity when it arrives?
Leadership identity drives your decisions toward big-picture leadership goals. Think for a moment about your big-picture leadership goal. What kind of person will you be when you reach that goal? What will be different, better? Now compare the mindset and decisions of the person you are today to that of the person you will become when you reach your big-picture goal. If you’re like most, there’s a gap; your mindset and decisions need to be consistent with where you want to be, versus where you are today. It’s like the old saying goes, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
Leadership identity reflects your values, mindset, actions, and responses. The best way I can describe this is with an example from my own life. One of my top values is health and wellness. When I reflect on my life I can see it almost everywhere, from playing sports as a child to my role models and personal habits. That value, along with the mindset, actions, and responses that go with it, shows up in my leadership identity—my energy in front of an audience, my attitude, my creativity levels, and my overall presence.
The Basic Building Blocks
Now that we’ve defined leadership identity, I’ll share five key building blocks to creating and evolving it.
- Leadership brand. Each of us has a brand, whether we consciously shape it or allow others to do it for us. What are you known for that distinguishes you from the crowd, and are you visible to senior leadership?
- Behaviors. Our self-initiated behaviors communicate a lot about us. Do your self-initiated behaviors reflect assertiveness, decisiveness, and confidence
- Responses. Our responses to situations and people also say a lot about us. What is your emotional intelligence in handling workplace situations and people around you?
- Presence. Do you dress the part of a leader? What does your physical presence exude? In addition, every communication, verbal or written, is an opportunity to showcase how well you organize your thoughts and articulate yourself. Do you sound like a leader?
- Habits. Our small actions, done day in and day out, are also known as habits. Who you are as a person is reflected in who you are as a leader, so it makes sense that your habits have a big stake in your leadership path and ultimate success. With the right habits, you stay on course. With the wrong ones, it’s easy to end up off the path.
Getting Started: Your Leadership Brand
“Branding and marketing yourself” is a fancy phrase for how you choose to project what is unique, genuine, and quality about you. I intentionally use the word choose because it is your choice to actively design and build awareness for your personal brand, or passively allow others to do it for you. Your brand and how you cultivate awareness of it can determine what leadership opportunities you have in the future.
The hallmarks of significant and successful brands are consistent quality and consistent awareness. In fact, if you examine the brands you are most loyal to, they likely have both in spades.
Consistent quality drives you to create the best product possible (you being the product). Its factors include:
- talents and skills
- unique expertise
- overall presence, including dress, presence, posture, voice, and articulation of thoughts.
Consistent awareness is where the big leap frequently comes into play, and I can relate. It’s awkward for most of us to actively keep ourselves top of mind in our industries and organizations. For example, I’ve always known that I brought consistent quality to my work. In fact, I joke that I’m a recovering perfectionist! The work quality itself was only the starting point; I had to adopt the mindset and actions of consistent awareness. Was it uncomfortable at times? Yes! But if I didn’t move past that barrier, it’s likely I wouldn’t be sharing this article with you right now.
As a leader, you must learn to create consistent awareness in the market and get comfortable with it. I’ve learned that the actions often come first in order to help cultivate the mindset. Here are some concrete ways you can take action. (I have used many of them myself). When creating your own list, it’s important keep in mind the things you are naturally good at and enjoy. That will help you consistently deliver on creating awareness for your leadership brand.
- Write articles for a key professional or industry association.
- Join or lead a relevant group on LinkedIn.
- Present research or a topic within your areas of expertise at an industry event, seminar, or conference.
- Prepare a presentation for your organization’s board of directors or executive leadership team. For instance, track your major accomplishments and impact on the business each quarter, and present them to your leadership.
- Ask your clients to provide feedback and forward positive feedback to your leadership. For critical feedback, find ways to improve the client experience and share those improvements with leadership.
- Elevate your networking by developing relationships with other senior leaders or industry thought leaders.
I challenge you to put one of these actions into play in the next 30 days. See what happens as a result of getting yourself into the marketplace!
Next time, we’ll take a deeper dive into the next building block: behaviors and leading through action.