Leadership Identity

In the workplace, people wear different badges. One of the important badges is the one worn by leaders. It may not be as visible as the one worn by Police men and women, but they wear it daily. A leadership badge should be worn with pride. It is representative of their leadership identity. Leadership identity is a set of characteristics that belong uniquely to a leader. It constitutes the leader’s personality. It is closely linked with their enacted values, and is the heart of a leader as a person. In order to determine their leadership identity, leaders need to be self-aware.



Many scholars and writers agree that self-awareness is one of the most important virtues that contribute to a leader’s success. It is the basis of Emotional Intelligence. Self-awareness is more than just knowing their strengths, weaknesses, values, goals and aspirations. It includes how all these impact on those they are leading. In order to increase their self-awareness, leaders are encouraged to ask themselves and answer questions such as:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I really want?
  • What do I want to be?
  • What are my values?
  • What is my unique value proposition?
  • What is the impact I have on others?
  • What is the legacy I want to leave in the organisation?


Self-awareness helps leaders to direct their behaviour. It also helps them to be centered. Centeredness implies that the leader is emotionally stable and secure. They are not easily swayed by the challenges they meet in the workplace. Centered leaders are resilient and grow from their challenges. Resiliency is defined as the ability to bounce or leap back after having encountered stressors and adversity. Resilient leaders have developed good resilient assets such as building and maintaining good relationships; emotional intelligence; and realistic optimism as well as good or healthy coping mechanisms. They never give up. They stay true to their purpose. These leaders are able to remain resilient because of their ability to reflect or introspect.


The importance of Introspection

When defining resilience, the importance of introspection is stressed. Introspection enables a leader to move from the dance onto the balcony. The balcony is a place where a leader takes an objective stance, and watches themself dance or react to situations happening around them. From this point, a leader notices and acknowledges their actions, reactions and responses. It helps them to accept their faults, and empowers them to develop ways to improve their behavior. Hence they grow in the process. Leaders who fail to reflect do not learn and grow from their experiences. They grow weak from each encounter and end up burnt out, or giving away their leadership badge.


Knocking On Heaven’s Door

Leaders who give up their leadership badge remind me of the song “Knocking on Heaven’s door”. The song describes the collapse of a deputy sheriff who is dying from a bullet wound. He tells his wife “Mama, take this badge off of me; I can’t use it anymore. It’s getting’ dark, too dark to see, I feel I’m knocking’ on heaven’s door”.

Leaders, who do not take time to reflect, fail to develop their resilience assets. They end up giving up, and literally singing this song without being aware of what they are doing. They no longer find pride in wearing their leadership badge/ identity. Being a leader becomes a chore instead of helping them to live their purpose. They no longer find fulfillment in what they do. They sometimes behave in ways that make them lose respect and integrity. These leaders change their identity to fit into the environment. They let the environment define them. In some cases they change without noticing that they have changed.

In case of women leaders, they lose their femininity and become “butch”. They lose empathy, which is one of the strongest virtues possessed by women leaders. Because leaders have given away their leadership badge, they are no longer seen as role models. They make their followers to be afraid of becoming leaders. They fail to develop other leaders. Such leaders leave a negative legacy.


Maintaining your Leadership Badge

A leadership badge is a symbol of honor and integrity. It represents a leader’s identity. It reminds leaders that their role is to serve their organization, employees and the community. Leaders are encouraged to find their center and develop resilience assets to deal with the ever-changing and challenging environment. This will help them to keep their leadership badge, and enabling them to leave a legacy. Coaching helps leaders to stick to their leadership identity whist at the same time challenging and stretching them to grow out of their comfort zone. Hence leaders are able to balance the paradox of life.


This article was also published in www.hrchitects.net.