As a leader, it is easy for people to make up stories about who you are based on their interactions with you. Consciously or unconsciously, leaders give off signals and vibes that if added together are used by the led to define their leader’s identity. Naturally, people have no way of seeing beneath a leader’s surface and so they rely on the things that leaders do, the way they behave, their decision-making style and other tangible and intangible parameters to determine who a leader is.
Good leaders know never to leave their self-definition to chance, they know that communicating who they are to their people is fundamental to gaining trust and commitment. This is why globally, renowned leaders have always ensured that they have well-crafted identities that are consciously executed and managed to avoid ambiguities regarding who they are and who their people perceive them to be. The fact that leaders can craft their persona does not imply any form of deception. All it means is that leaders can decide which of their personalities, their truths, and their innermost traits they wish to share with their team.
It can be quite disturbing and disruptive when leaders flip and flop in their portrayal of self. Some leaders believe this Machiavellian style of unpredictability is strategic and helps them stay ahead of the game, but in reality, it is a poor way of leading and may work well for dictators but not for real and true leaders.
Keeping your team in suspense with regards to which persona is going to show up per occasion can be very tiring and demotivating. Leaders who are inconsistent with their identities fail to understand that people are not likely to stand with them or hand over their trust if they feel uncertain about the leader’s true self.
The two best examples that always come to mind when the issue of leadership identity is discussed are Barrack Obama and Richard Branson. These two leaders are very unambiguous in their portrayal of themselves to their people and to the world. Both of them are able to distinctly and consistently express to the world exactly who they want to be perceived as. Where Barrack Obama’s portrayal of himself is as the smart, easy-going, family-centric, think on your feet, amiable, transparent, approachable and forward-looking kind of leader, Richard Branson consistently showcases to the world his adventurous, think-out-of-the-box, people-centric, fearless, risk-taking, you-only-live-life-once personality as a leader. They both always put their personalities on display and because they are secure and comfortable in their own skin and with who they are, they are accepted and revered for just being themselves.
Crafting a well-defined identity though not an easy feat, is one of the steps that any great or intended great leader should undertake, and for it to be successfully done, it must always start with self-awareness. A leader must know who they are and be comfortable with their different persona. Only then can they successfully transmit their crafted identity to their people.