Three Principles that Explain Authentic Decision-Making

You can’t make a good decision until you know who you are. Decisions based on someone else’s values are dissatisfying and ineffective.

3 principles that explain authentic decision-making:

#1. Identity tells you what to do.

Who you are is the foundation of useful action.

You don’t vacuum your house with a snowplow. And you can’t do snow removal with a vacuum.

If you’re a snowplow, look for snow. If you’re a vacuum, look for a dirty carpet.

Identity shows you what you do best. You can get groceries with a snow plow, but it’s not efficient. Snow plows are at their best when they feel the load of snow on the blade.

#2. Identity controls decisions.

Buying a car isn’t a rational decision. It’s about self-perception. I drive a pickup truck because I’m still that 13-year-old farm boy from Maine. It feels good.

Dr. James March suggests three questions for identity-based-decisions*:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What kind of situation is this?
  3. What do people like me do in this kind of situation?

#3. Identity controls behavior.

Thirty years ago, Texas introduced an anti-litter campaign based on the self-perception of Texans. It wasn’t “Give a hoot. Don’t Pollute.”

Texan’s are anti-authoritarian. Their identity-based-campaign was, “Don’t Mess with Texas.” Willie Nelson sang, “Mommas tell all your babies, “Don’t mess with Texas.” Litter dropped over 70%.

When you forget who you are, you define yourself by your circumstances.

The danger of forgetting who you are is losing yourself to the organization you lead. You become unfulfilled and drained.


  1. Tell everyone who you are by word and example.
  2. Tell everyone who WE are from an organizational point of view.

Warren Bennis said, “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself …”

How might you become who they are?

What blocks authentic leadership?

*Made to Stick