Leadership Identity and the Impact it has on the Workforce

April 9, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-leadership-womenleadership

Leadership style and behaviour have a major influence on an organisation’s success and the wellbeing and performance of its employees. Studies show that 50-70% of an employee’s perception of their work environment is linked to the actions and behaviours of its management.

Most leaders know their impact and the majority want to lead well for the sake of their company and the people who work there. However, sometimes, even the most experienced leaders with good communication skills may start to question how they are portraying themselves, feeling confused or surprised by their team members actions. Often, this stems from conflict or misalignment in their identity.

As a leader, having a strong identity is essential; it enables you to establish a solid foundation for decision-making based on a clear vision, values, and goals. It’s hard to lead with assurance and by example if you don’t know yourself well, understanding your values and the type of leader you are, the one you wish to be, and how this plays out in your interactions with the team.

There are countless things cited when discussing the crucial qualities of a good leader, for example, the ability to empower and motivate others, trustworthiness, a coaching mindset, resilience, and emotional intelligence. But one that always comes up, for good reason, is clear communication.

In principle, developing strong communication skills sounds relatively simple if you take the following steps:

1. Define what kind of leader you want to be.

2. Ascertain the culture you wish to create.

3. Learn to communicate clearly.

4. Match your communication and actions accordingly.

Still, problems arise when these different elements are out of sync because of conflicting priorities or doubts about your core identity. 

How does an identity conflict affect communication?

Communication involves active listening.

When someone experiences a conflict in identity it can cause them to lose confidence in their values and beliefs.  Therefore, it becomes increasingly hard to hear feedback and respond appropriately. If you are already dealing with an inner turmoil, you aren’t as well equipped to receive opposing views and put them into perspective. This leads to blind spots. Whereas, team members are often closer to the day-to-day activities, meaning they may be able to see something that you can’t.

Communication also involves follow-through.

The definition of identity is not always straightforward for a leader. First and foremost, you have your personal core identity woven out of your values, interests, and passions. You have your original workplace identity carved out pre-leadership, and one that is likely to have evolved as you became more senior. These are then overlaid by board level or CEO expectations, the personas of other senior figures, and the company strategy. Aligning your identity can be tough with all of these things to balance and when you’re not only dealing with introspection. 

In some instances, a leader will communicate clearly, yet the conflict is actually given away by their behaviours. Multiple studies have shown higher engagement from staff when a leader’s actions reflect their words. When the two are disjointed, it can create mistrust, unease, and a lack of motivation among the team. There is also the value of leading by example. If your communication sounds clear, yet there is little or no follow-through, your team members can start to repeat the same pattern.

How can you strengthen your sense of identity as a leader?

  • Take time to understand your personal and professional values and how they intersect. 
  • Define how these translate into the workplace. Make sure you acknowledge the different roles you play i.e. as manager, leader, stakeholder, peer in the leadership team, report to the CEO etc. 
  • Set clear boundaries based on what’s important to you and be prepared to speak up. Some things may not always work out to be in total alignment, but there will be less inner conflict if you feel able to raise issues.
  • Consider the full spectrum of communication and action. Don’t just focus on the initial words and strategy. Look at how you will put them into practice and demonstrate them to the team. 
  • Be open – open in your communication and also open-minded, which means listening and responding to others’ ideas and feedback. Communication is a two- way process.

Our personal and professional identities may differ slightly, but they should be in alignment so you can act authentically. It’s obvious when a leader feels in conflict with themselves. Time to work through these aspects and seek outside help if needed. When you have the confidence to present yourself fully as a leader, the difference it makes for everyone, including you, is remarkable.

Carina Harvey

CIPD Chartered Professional and Personal Identity Coach

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