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Understand Identity to Lead More Powerfully

This article was based on episode 215 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get a free handout that offers a set of eight reflective questions around the 4 Cs of exceptional management: Confidence, Collaboration, Communication, and Culture. Become a member at www.themodernmanager.com/join. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


Identity is often misunderstood as a factor of DNA. We think of physical or possibly geographical characteristics as the primary drivers of identity, but in fact, identity is a complex and ever evolving element of who we are. To understand your identity is to understand how you’ve become the person you are today.


I spoke with Victoria Shiroma Wilson about how we can become better leaders by understanding our own identity and those of our colleagues. Victoria is a leadership development coach and consultant who partners with world-class organizations and professionals to discover their purpose, develop a powerful vision, and design a strategy toward transformation. She helped break down the elements of identity and how we can harness our uniqueness to strengthen our leadership skills.


WHAT IS IDENTITY?


According to Victoria, identity is the sum of how we perceive the world and therefore how we think and act. It's formed through the many experiences we’ve had interacting with the world and the world responding to us. These interactions have shaped our perspective and influenced how we behave.


For example, If you’ve spent a decade working in one organization, you begin to internalize how to speak in meetings to avoid getting trampled, even if after you change jobs, that approach is no longer necessary. It’s become so innate to who you are that others experience you in meetings in a particular way which they attribute to you, even if it’s a learned behavior.


One of the most nuanced aspects of identity is that it’s not fixed, nor is it universal in its experience. We can have similar experiences and yet they shape our identity in different ways. We can have similar demographics such as gender or age, and yet those characteristics have led to different understandings of what it means to be a woman or older person. Over time, our identity shifts as we have more, new interactions that reinforce or challenge how we see ourselves.


WHY DOES IDENTITY MATTER?


So much of how we think, make decisions, and collaborate with others is informed by our identity, even if we don’t realize it. Victoria shares how identity shows up in particular ways when making decisions. For example, in some cultures, like the USA, we are trained from a young age in school to find the right answer. This is not the case in all cultures where there is a greater acceptance that there may not be a right answer, only better or worse answers.


Another aspect of identity that shows up in decision-making is the tolerance for making a bad decision. Again, while it may seem separate from identity, our ability and comfort to deal with ambiguity and take risks runs deeper than a single decision. It is part of who we are, based on years of prior experiences dealing with ambiguity and making decisions, and gauging the responses from others in the aftermath.


HOW CAN WE EMBRACE IDENTITY?


The beauty of identity is that each person is uniquely themselves, and each person brings their perspective to the team’s work and your relationships. Instead of making assumptions about a person, their behavior or their perspective, we can shift to a mindset of curiosity in which we explore people’s perspectives.


Victoria calls this a move from “I Am” to “I See”. Instead of emphasizing who we are (a woman, mother, manager, city-gal, etc) we can share what we see when we engage with a particular situation that brings all of who we are to that moment. By asking questions like “say more” or “tell me more about why you feel that way”, we can uncover deeper thinking that is rooted in identity and will help us better understand each other.


By acknowledging that identity is at play in all we do, we can support each other to be our best selves and do our best work. While identity is formed by our past and informs how we approach the future, it doesn’t have to. Sometimes, all it takes is peeling back the layers to help us see that we can be more than the sum of our prior experiences.


KEEP UP WITH VICTORIA


Members of the Modern Manager community get a free handout that offers a set of eight reflective questions around the 4 Cs of exceptional management: Confidence, Collaboration, Communication, and Culture. Become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.


This article was based on episode 215 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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