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Leader Identity Shifts: Unlocking Team Success

Leader Identity Shifts: Unlocking Team Success



A person holding a mirror to the sky
Identity shifts: An Inside Job

At the heart of personal growth and meaningful change is one common theme: Identity shifts. While all stories are different, it's the recognition that achieving our goals often demands more than just enhancing our skill sets—it requires an evolution of our own identity, as an 'inside job'. For leaders (and Lego characters!) this self-discovery not only fosters personal growth but also holds the key to unlocking team engagement and organisational success.


This blog post shares three coaching client stories; leaders who were seeking to improve team engagement and (without any of us knowing at the time) the identity shift needed to make this improvement a reality. As with all my posts using client stories, only the names of individuals (and their Lego doubles!) have been changed to protect their shifting(!) identities.


Client 1 - Jonathan: Redefining Leadership Effectiveness 


Siloheuette of people on a hill, with one signle person in front
Letting go of the all-knowing leader identity

Jonathan's story embodies the classic archetype of the "know-it-all" leader - an identity ingrained by his predecessors, which gained him early success, but less so in more recent roles. He added, "The alternative is to be seen as weak". Early in our coaching came a stark realisation: the pursuit of having all the answers was not only exhausting but also counterproductive to fostering team engagement.


We explored his definition of effective leadership which expanded to include embracing diverse perspectives and suspending judgement. As he let go of the need to be seen as all-knowing, he discovered that healthy challenge brought better solutions through the collective wisdom of the team - and the fear of being seen as weak disappeared almost entirely.



The identity shift for Jonathan to a more "collective wisdom" leader was relatively smooth, especially seeing that the old style was no longer serving him. It was not so smooth for this next client, who experienced a lot of pain in letting go of her old directive leader identity to improve team engagement.


Client 2 - Caroline:  From Directive to Curious Collaboration

Caroline's leadership journey was characterized by a directive style that had served her well in the past but faltered in a new organizational context. The initial goal was to improve communication in her new 'Head of' role and Caroline explained the usual pattern - the more she felt she was losing the team, the more explanation she would give to ensure there was no misunderstanding. But control was slipping away as complexity in her new organisation role increased. 


Woman with a megaphone at a protest
One-way communication

Struggling to align her team behind her vision, Caroline faced a pivotal realisation: clarity in communication wasn't just about issuing instructions but about fostering curiosity and dialogue. This was quite a shocking and sobering discovery at first. "After all these years, most of my high-stakes communication was one-way".  And still this realisation was not enough. The new habit of remaining curious and letting go of control felt extremely uncomfortable.


What Caroline revealed during the following months was an anxiety that she would lose control and would fall back to old directive habits. "I fear becoming that old leader again". This was an identity struggle. Seeing herself as a strong and directive leader was still important to Caroline but she was confused about when it was appropriate. We spent time describing the shift from the old to the new 'Head of' role, so that she could embrace more of the curious and collaborative elements but still maintain the old directive style; directive, not when fearing a lack of control, but through knowing it was the right decision. It was about embracing both styles, creating a complete and balanced picture of her new identity to help her move in a new direction.


Client 3 - Dan: Balancing People Pleasing with Decisive Leadership


A pile of lego heads
Trying to be all things to all people

Dan's story delves into the balance between being liked and being an effective leader. Plagued by a fear of conflict and a compulsion to please everyone, Dan found himself trapped in a cycle of indecision and inconsistency. Coupled with the fear was a belief that leadership was a democratic process that needed almost unanimous approval. This was causing team members to drive their own agendas and make decisions in isolation, or worse, get frustrated by the lack of direction and check out.


Dan was able to describe for himself the shift from people pleaser to making difficult decisions - this included tuning into his own intuition, once all input had been provided, and sticking with his decision. This 'inside job' helped him better articulate his decisions with confidence, and win the respect of his team. It was difficult in the moment to let go of the ‘people pleaser’ identity, but with practice, and catching it in the moment, Dan was able to rewrite his story. Before long he reported a remarkable transformation in team engagement and cohesion.

 

 

Across these diverse stories, lies a common truth: that identity shifts are a regular feature of effective leaders. These 'inside jobs', by their very nature, are often uncomfortable and can trigger a response back to an old identity, even if one knows it’s detrimental to change efforts. Lasting transformation requires support, commitment and the courage to embrace the discomfort of growth.

 

As you reflect on these stories, consider your own leadership journey.

Have you ever found yourself struggling to make changes to your leadership style?

 

Perhaps the solution was beyond tweaking skillsets and strategies and required an inside job.

 

If you resonate with these stories and seek guidance in navigating your own transformation, I invite you to book a free Discovery session. In this complimentary session we'll explore:

  1. My evidence-based approach in mastering leadership complexity and fostering innovation.

  2. Strategies to ignite employee engagement scores 15 to 20% above sector averages.

  3. Techniques to rediscover confidence and clarity, maximising influence within your team. 

 

Whether we proceed further or not, this session promises valuable insights for navigating your career or leadership role.




 

Thanks for tuning in

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