Is an Imposed Leadership Identity Making You an Insecure Leader?
By: Dr. Kevin John
An authentic leadership identity is essential to the health and sustainability of any organization. Yet, sometimes leaders face challenges operating as the clones they shouldn’t be, stemming from an imposed identity. Our identities make up who we are, what we are, and our state of being relative to the core of our worldview, values, environments, experiences, and relationships. Your personal identity informs your leadership identity, which ultimately informs your reality. The quality or depth of your leadership identity stems from your perspectives, perceptions, and expectations of your personal, industrial, organizational, social, and emotional interactions. If your mental wires become crossed from what informs you, your insight, foresight, and decision-making capabilities can become fractured and unrecognizable. An imposed identity can hinder or restrict you, turning you into an artificial you versus an authentic you.
Getting to the Root of Identity Imposition
Depending on the organizational structure, level of support, or environment, leaders may find challenges in leading in a manner that reflects their authentic identity. These factors can prevent good leaders from unlocking the power of their leadership potential to become outstanding leaders. Internal pressures to replicate the past successes of senior leaders, coupled with external pressure from expectations centered on roles and responsibilities, can be daunting. Things can become even more challenging when the pressure to adopt a preferred leadership style or practice conflicts with your intuition, intentions, values, or sound judgment. Leading outside an authentic leadership identity can cause feelings of doubt, insecurity, inadequacy, and even crippling anxiety or emotional instability. Challenge yourself to become an internal investigator to get to the root of your imposed identity. The more you observe yourself, the more you will discover about yourself. Too many leaders do an excellent job of monitoring others while doing a terrible job of monitoring themselves. Observing yourself and then measuring what you see empowers you to become a more effective curious, capable, and confident leader.
Determining if an Imposed Identity Makes You an Insecure Leader:
You defer to your boss’s ineffective strategy
Not all strategies created are equal relative to organizational effectiveness. Some leaders mistakenly see value in sticking with ideas from their previous roles or locations that are not transferrable or applicable to their current situation. Challenge ineffective strategies with evidence when necessary, even though your position may not be popular.
You lead according to expectations, not authenticity
Consider if any imposed expectations of you suit your leadership growth and development. Recognize competing agendas or conflicting interests in following instructions while developing or refining your leadership voice. Engage in healthy and inviting conversations to identify any miscommunication or misinterpretation of expectations.
Your constructive feedback causes you to shrink back
Sometimes, receiving constructive feedback can appear insulting on the surface. Yet, what would we see if we removed our bruised egos from the equation? Instead of shrinking back after receiving constructive feedback and pretending behind a mask, peel back your layers through positive inquiry. Reflecting and asking the right questions helps us to distinguish between an imposed and assumed identity.
You have cycles of opinion-gathering tours
Not being empowered to trust your leadership voice can lead to repeated second-guessing. Instead of settling on a decision promptly, you become indecisive from seeking too many opinions. This overreliance on reconnaissance leads you down the rabbit hole of uncertainty. The more people you talk to, the more you will crave affirmation. Trust that your voice is worthy enough and needs hearing. Break free from the endless cycle of excessive opinion gathering by deciding quickly and living with the possibilities.
You over-explain, seeking to validate your adequacy
Even leaders at the highest levels might feel inadequate. Yet, it’s one thing to impose your sense of inadequacy on yourself and another to have a sense of inadequacy imposed on you. In both instances, you may realize you are over-explaining to affirm your sense of belonging. Your perception might be that the information you offer isn’t good enough or relevant. Getting to the core of why and challenging this perception is critical.
You place false limitations on yourself vs knowing your actual bandwidth or capacity
As leaders, it’s easy to become over-committed and overextended. The high toll of increasing demands and responsibilities can cause us to exceed our bandwidth and capacity. Although this might seem beneficial when raising the bar and crushing goals and expectations, it can also be detrimental, leading to burnout. But what about when you’re the one that imposes on your leadership identity through false limitations? Telling yourself you have nothing left, even though you do, can be just as damaging as having someone insist you are through. The key in either scenario is to be truthful with yourself and not let feelings of inadequacy hinder your growth or impede your progress.
MAPPING OUT to Reposition From Imposition
Your leadership identity should always connect to your leadership legacy. The leaders responsible for coaching, developing, and shaping you, have a duty and responsibility to multiply leaders that are signature standards versus carbon copies. Curious, confident, respected, and connected leaders are more effective than isolated, sheltered, fearful, or restricted toy soldiers and pre-programmed robots. Engage in confronting your leadership legacy by MAPPING OUT to reposition from an imposed leadership identity.
MAPPING OUT aligns your vision, mission, thoughts, behaviors, and activities with your core identity. Effectively MAPPING OUT your leadership requires you to explore how you are:
Motivating – clarify what drives, uplifts, or gets you going.
Accountable – know how and when you measure your progress.
Principled – ask what truths or falsehoods govern your belief or worldview.
Purposeful – develop your intentionality, resolve, and determination.
Imaginative – allow individuality to flow while envisioning solution-driven realities openly.
Nurturing – harness the power of genuine concern and empathy.
Guiding – use your insight and experiences as navigators and accelerators.
Observable – allow yourself the space to see what others refuse to see.
Unshakable – permit yourself to let go when you get it wrong, knowing you will get it right.
Transformative – inspire a collective responsibility to maximize game-changing possibilities.
Healing, recovering, and restoring from an imposed leadership identity is no simple task. It requires you to confront the unquestioning value you place in false narratives describing you. It also requires you to face any ideas, practices, systems, and processes imposed on you that sabotage your leadership effectiveness. What you thought you knew as your leadership truth might not serve you or those who rely on you. Take inventory of whether you accept an imposed leadership identity due to blind loyalty or feelings of inferiority. Remember, MAPPING OUT your leadership elevates, while everything restricting your leadership stagnates.