Finding Your Leadership Identity, Part I

The question of leadership identity has come up often with clients over the past few months. When a person is seeking to make a change, whether it’s changing careers, looking for a promotion, or a move to the next phase in life, ( kids going off to school, for instance), they can get stuck in where to begin. 

It’s especially hard when, as is common, a person can’t articulate what they actually want and why.

We are able to choose more clearly if we first define who we are: our core purpose, our soul. If we can do that, we can begin to understand our leadership identity, and create the culture and context around us in which we can thrive. Under those conditions, anything is possible. 

I know of two good ways to do this.The first method is to look carefully at our past, and the second is to look at where we are right now. Next week, I’ll talk about looking at the “right now”. For this post, I’ll stick with the past.

Finding executive identity in our history

In the past we can find the moments, themes, and patterns that are clues to our identity and core purpose. 

One of the ways to organize your review of the past is to methodically plot your elementary, middle, high school, college, work, volunteering, and clubs/group experiences on a timeline. Also add in any other experiences/moments that stand out for you, particularly the high points where you were happiest and most joyful. 

Next, describe some of these moments in more detail. Consider some or all of the following questions:

What were you doing? What impact were you having?

What are the themes and patterns connecting these moments?

What do you notice about what you value and what you stand for?

What in the past did you love to do that brought you deep passion?

Why did you/do you love to do this?

How did you feel inside when doing those things?

How would people describe you in those moments?

When do you feel your best self? In what contexts, what situations?

When would others say you are at your best?

These are the critical moments that have shaped who you are and that help define you today. By considering these experiences and moments carefully, you will learn a lot about who you are. 

Finding a leadership identity is not about taking something from the outside and putting it on, like a new coat—it’s about uncovering what is already in us, and allowing ourselves to spend more of our time there, more often. Next week, I’ll post some information on finding out more about our leadership identity through how we are living in the present. 

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