Reflections on Your Leadership Identity

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How Do Others See You?

Each of us has an image of ourselves that’s firmly rooted in our mind’s-eye, Most often we see ourselves through the light of our inner thoughts and intentions:

We want to do good in the world. 

We have good intentions. 

We’re good people. We try hard.

The problem is that those around us can’t read our minds or intuit our intentions. They judge us by our words and our actions. While most of the assessments others have of us are arrived at consciously by observing us in action, there is also a personal chemistry at work that is mostly sub-conscious. So, no matter what we may think of ourselves, others have their own opinions.

 Have you ever wondered what those assessment might be?

He’s super busy and unreliable. He may, or may not, get back to you depending on how busy he is.

She’s inconsistent. She has good stretches where she does what she says, and then she hits weeks where she falls back to her old ways. Her good stretches usually follow a serious conversation where someone has called her out for not doing something she promised she would. She can’t seem to sustain her commitment.

She’s a martyr. She works long hours, sacrifices her home life, yet she never catches up or gets ahead in her work. Pile it on. It just drives her deeper into despair. She definitely won’t speak up for herself, even when she’s stressed, overwhelmed and burning out.

She’s a whirling dervish. She’s always busy and on her way somewhere else. When she stops long enough to talk to you, you feel like you’re interrupting something. This makes you feel like you’re not important.

He’s a self-promoter. You never get an authentic response from him. He insists on putting on a good front. He’ll promote the latest thing he’s doing as if he’s the only one in the world that’s doing it. He wants to be viewed as special.

She’s not trustworthy. She says what you want to hear at a meeting or keeps her mouth shut and says nothing. When the meeting is over she gives her real opinion outside the room. She begins these conversations with “This is confidential…” She talks behind people’s backs. She can undermine any initiative by having a few informal conversations with the “right” people.

He’s not accountable. “It’s not my job”. “You’re the boss.” “That’s why they pay you the big bucks”….are just a few of his sayings. He doesn’t take accountability for his own decisions. He says, “I had to do this or I had to do that…” He never says, “I chose to do this or that…”

She’s a gatekeeper. She filters all the information that people have access to. She won’t let people know about some things like conferences or workshops she doesn’t like. She doesn’t like her bosses going anywhere without her. She doesn’t want them coming back with ideas she didn’t give them.

He’s a politician. He’ll say whatever you want to hear. He rarely takes a difficult stand and will switch positions based on where he’s getting the most pressure. He’ll throw you under the bus if it’s politically expedient.

He’s afraid to make hard decisions or challenge difficult people. He has folks on his staff who aren’t competent. He knows he needs to do something about them; but that might get messy and its easier for him to just live with things. Because he doesn’t like difficult conversations, his staff gets good evaluations whether they deserve them or not.

She has to be perfect. She’s afraid to make mistakes. She takes so long to do things that no one asks her to do anything important anymore.

He’s totally disorganized. Take a look at his office, it’s a reflection of the clutter that’s filling his mind. Is it any wonder that he’s constantly forgetting, juxtaposing, and messing up?

She has little integrity. She’ll say anything to get what she wants. She may say she cares about her colleagues or her students but her actions don’t match her rhetoric.

He’s not confident. He jokes around a lot when he’s nervous or uncomfortable. When he jokes like this he makes himself look a lot less smart than he really is. People don’t see him as a confident and trustworthy leader.

She never follows up. She talks a good game but then quickly forgets what she promised to do.

She says “Yes” to everything. She may not have the capacity to do what she commits to; but she doesn’t know how to say “No”. Everyone gives her things because they know she’ll say “Yes”. If you accept her “Yes” do so at your own risk. Be prepared for last minute drama and crisis.

He’s a bully. No one likes working with him because in order to get things done he’s willing to throw others under the bus. He’ll blind ‘cc the boss on memos if it helps him get what he needs. He has a wicked temper and he doesn’t like to look foolish. He doesn’t care about you. He just wants to get his job done.

She’s committed to ‘nothing changing’. She’s the person who is totally resigned to the status quo. She’s seen leaders with great ideas come and go; and things never change. She believes things will never change no matter who it is, or what they try. She’s the person who is the first to tell you that “We’ve already been there and tried that”.

He loves to get lost in the details. Generally, he’s always busy, but little gets done. Because of that he can only handle one thing at a time. 

She’s a complainer. If things aren’t running the way she’d like them to she’s not happy. She has a hard time saying “Thank you”, showing gratitude, or acknowledging the effort of others.

He’s a “first on the block-er”. His identity is built on knowing things first. It gives him a feeling of being out in front. It makes people think he’s a visionary.

He has bad judgment. He makes the worst decisions. He sees your point afterwards and feels bad about what he did. Don’t put him in situations where he has to think for himself.

He’s a cowboy. When problems arise he tries to solve them all by himself. He doesn’t let anyone know that he’s struggling. He’ll work by himself up to the final deadline trying to get the problem solved, then let you know at the last minute that he couldn’t get it done. Since he never gives you an early head’s up that something is a problem, he doesn’t leave you with many options.

No one’s perfect and there are elements of these identities in each of us. 

But two good questions for us to reflect on are:

“What identity would I like to have?” 


“What do I need to do to go about creating it?”



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