by Glenn Llopis
The first job I had was with a large Wine & Spirits company. It was a top-down, best-practice, zero-defect, career-path, fear-based culture. Everyone was accountable to someone else, and had to follow a set of policies and procedures. In this company, you were not encouraged to freely express your individuality. In fact, in the classical ways of bureaucracies, the best sales people had been promoted into management – where they were floundering because they lacked the right types of skills to succeed in their new roles. A great sales person is not necessarily a great manager. But this company didn’t care about the consequences they created. This was a linear-thinking, cookie-cutter, no-individuals-for-hire organization.
Over time, I began to realize that I was working in a culture that didn’t value individuality in its people or client relationships in its business. The only thing that mattered was the transaction; it was a “what have you done for me lately” environment. It was never about my or anyone else’s personal growth and development – or what would help us find success and eventual significance. It was about control. It was about the company.
Granted, I learned the importance of discipline, structure and protocol – valuable lessons that I continue to apply diligently in my work. But effective leadership requires so much more, not the least of which is one’s ability to earn trust from others, while at the same time learning to trust one’s self. These are qualities hard to come by in the traditional workplace that I described, which has historically shaped, trained and defined the voices of their leaders for them. This meant that leaders were valued based on the overall performance of the organization and credibility of the corporate brand.
If the organization was performing well and recognized as a market leader in their industry, leaders in that company were considered for higher paying jobs and/or more senior titles and responsibilities – not just from within but often targeted by executive recruiters.
In this not too distant past, an organization defined and influenced the career path of its leaders; in many cases, much more than the individual leader did. This career advancement formula still exists today, but not as much. Companies that recruited top talent away from successful organizations often found that their leaders could not transfer their formula for success. Perhaps these leaders never really had their own formula.
This herein defines the identity crisis that most leaders are faced with in today’s 21st century global marketplace.
Leaders from the traditional workplace are a by-product of the companies they were “raised in.” A workplace where it’s not about the individual, but about the perpetuation of the organization. Where one must often check their best and most authentic selves at the door as they walk in each morning, and learn to conform to the company way of doing things.
In this kind of organization, you can be whatever you want to be – as long as the company already has a slot for it. Individuality? Forget it. Building an authentic personal brand? Not going to happen. Diversity as a profit center? If there are diversity programs, they are tactical inclusion initiatives to comply with corporate governance and regulations or gain access to a particular talent pool.
The traditional workplace is so internally focused they make it difficult for you to market and transfer your skills to a new organization. As such, you are trapped as a leader and you begin to fall victim to an identity crisis. The traditional workplace wires you to be successful for one company – and only that company. And woe betide you if that company has to exit the line of business you are an expert in. Your skills won’t even be relevant within your own organization. Really makes you think, doesn’t it?
Leaders can never afford to lose their identity. Why? You can’t optimally perform and lead when you feel stuck between being yourself and what others want you to be.
So how does a leader start to reclaim their identity? Here are five things you must spend more time doing to become a more effective, confident and relevant leader:
1. Define Your Own Leadership Style/Approach
I am often amazed at the inauthenticity of our leaders. Many will copy someone else’s approach to leadership, rather than simply using it as a guide or inspiration to help them define an authentic way of leading that reflects their own style.
What is the process and approach by which you create successful and sustainable performance for the organization and the teams that you lead? Is there a step-by-step framework that complements and supports the natural ways that you lead?
Become more aware of your leadership style and approach. Once you can define it, create a framework and/or methodology to support it. Once you can do this, it makes it easier for you to help others understand your expectations, how you think and your methods to develop people and drive results. Your identity as a leader will get discovered and you will be appreciated for your authenticity. It will also help you more quickly identify who you can most efficiency and effectively work with – and those you cannot.
2. Learn How to Tell Your Story
Discover your own voice and learn how to communicate and share your story. What is your backstory and how has it shaped your leadership identity? There is a reason you enjoy being a leader. Your life experiences since childhood have shaped your thinking and how you managed opportunities along the way have influenced your views – the lens in which you see through – as a leader. What are your experiences and the opportunities that you managed? These are the stories of your leadership journey.
To reclaim your leadership identity, you must know it well enough yourself before you can effectively share it with others. This is why most leaders are challenged when they try to express their points of view about leadership, especially in writing. People forget that being a leader is a very personal thing. In the end, you are accountable to people. This means that you are extremely responsible for your actions and the expectations are high.
Define your story and write about it, speak about it and learn about it. This means that you must become a more active and effective writer, speaker and student of leadership. Become a contributing leadership writer for an industry publication – or start your own blog. Speak more actively at industry events, get a speaking coach, and learn how to tell your leadership story. Earn the right for your voice to be heard and influence outcomes. Learn how others interpret your identity, but don’t let them define it.
3. Never Stop Learning & Growing
To be an effective and sustainable leader, you must be equal parts student and teacher. Yet too many leaders are “selling themselves” (not knowing what they are selling) to get attention rather than educating themselves and others to advance the healthier whole.
Your identity becomes stronger as you continue to enrich your mind with meaningful and purposeful knowledge that supports and complements who you are and the impact you want to create as a leader. Continually educate yourself as a leader and appreciate the journey – the opportunity to grow organically. Don’t rush the leadership development process. Be aware of it and learn from it.