Leadership Identity – Self-Perception Determines How You Lead
“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Anonymous*
Competence enjoys challenge, but when you see yourself as incompetent, challenge ignites anxiety. Focus on the incompetency of team members creates reluctant teams.
Strength sees opportunity. Weakness sees threat.
Victims blame. Owners take responsibility.
Identity shapes how you experience the world.
Choose your leadership identity:
4 factors contribute to identity:
- Genetics. You were born with a predetermined height, skin color, and temperament.
- Environment. If I had been born in Paris instead of Maine, I would have a different identity.
- Choices and Behaviors. How you act impacts who you become. You weren’t born a body builder, but you might say, “I’m a body builder.” That’s an identity of choice.
- Relationships. “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” Anonymous
When you say, “I’m a leader,” what identity do you choose?
Ancient cultures in the Middle East often saw leaders as shepherds.
The Sumerians were first to employ a shepherding metaphor to rulers. Ancient Egyptians used the term Hyksos for rulers of foreign lands. It means king-shepherd.
David, the shepherd boy who became king, best illustrates the ancient Hebrew connection between leadership and shepherding. The most famous psalm in the Hebrew Bible begins, “The LORD is my Shepherd.” Ps. 23 In other words, God is, among other things, a shepherd.
Muhamad said, “All of you are shepherds, and each of you is responsible for his herd.”
Show up like a shepherd-leader:
- Live with sheep in mind. Leading is about people before it’s about results.
- Bring challenge and support. Constant turbulence hinders performance. How are the sheep when you show up?
- Work to advantage others. Convince the sheep you have their best interest at heart. Sheep-centered leaders thrive. Self-centered shepherds stumble.
What comes to mind when you think of yourself as a shepherd-leader?
What other metaphors might expand a leader’s self-perception?
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The shepherd also protects the flock from getting lost, making bad decisions and predators. When necessary the shepherd leader needs command presence, conflict management and comfort around senior leadership.
Thanks Bushee. Context seems to matter when we think about the way leaders function. I think Blanchard calls it Situational Leadership.
In crisis a command presence matters, for example. Sadly, that’s the only way some leaders know how to lead.
You nailed it with this: “Leading is about people before it’s about results.” The US Army says, “Mission first, People Always.” When we lose sight of the people, we are no longer qualified to lead.
Results without people = ego… People without results = Humility
People + Results = on our way to higher order leadership.
Thanks Brian. Love the way the Army puts it. You get a sense of the importance of mission. Your formula makes sense. People + Results !!
What comes to mind when you think of yourself as a shepherd-leader? Knowing that each component is as important as the next, the Leader protects their flock. Perhaps the development of the Sheep dogs to manage the flocks, protect them from Predators and alert the Shepherd.
The people we engage with become the Flock.
What other metaphors might expand a leader’s self-perception? “Being all you can be” military day jumping out I guess. So if we give our all we come the all in a context of sharing and hopefully leading so others do follow. “Hard work does pay off” more often than we think. Love the “Army” concept from Brian today, powerful! “People + Results = on our way to higher order leadership”.
Thanks Tim. If you’re a shepherd develop sheep dogs. LOVE THAT.
Develop sheep dogs – yes. Don’t bring cattle dogs to help manage a flock of sheep, though! Cattle dogs herd by nipping at heels and barking. They’re effective at scaring the flock into compliance. While sheep dogs protect watch and move the herd without creating the turmoil and fear that cattle dogs bring. A true sheep dog can move a herd without a noise or a nip. They just move and position themselves strategically.
You made a fantastic analogy, Tim.
Yes … ‘strategic positioning’ and watchful waiting. A good sheep dog makes stealthy moves, with frequent adjustments … and a lot of sitting!
The shepherd-leader focuses on the sheep. What do they need to be safe as well as eat, drink, sleep, and achieve the desired goals.
In a similar way, great leaders focus on their team members. What do they need to grow and prosper. Do they need a new challenge, more confidence, or coaching on how to proceed?
What can I do to help my team perform at a higher level?
Thanks Paul. You brought some practical ideas to focusing on team members. What do they need to thrive? That’s a powerful question.
The idea of challenge and support comes to mind.
Another analogy I used in my first book was of a Zookeeper. They nurture and protect the exotic animals from the outside world and sometimes from each other. If they behave badly, they punish or, if necessary, remove them. And a great Zookeeper will defend his animals at all cost.
author The Business Zoo
Knowing the vulnerabilities of each “sheep” in the flock and maintaining awareness of needs requires both vision and a degree of self sacrifice in both time and energy. I believe that the best shepherd leaders love what they do. Remaining the calm figure in the midst of storms creates the balance needed for good health in all of its many forms. The Psalm of the Good Shepherd was always my favorite especially in times of stress. Thank-you for your analogy. Positively, Pauline
Thanks Brad. I think I belong in a zoo. 🙂 cheers!
Leading is about people before its about results. This is central to all leadership i have seen. To be useful as a leader you have to cultivate the people around you and allow them to thrive in their fields. Giving them sustainable goals and processes will allow them to be confident in their work and accept challenges.
Thanks Adam. Great language around goals. “Sustainable” Sometimes goals are unsustainable whipping posts.
Wise post – thanks.
The danger with all metaphors is they can be taken too far. Sheep, relative to shepherds, are pretty stupid and therefore leaders thinking like this might become arrogant.
I’d prefer a metaphor that is participatory and egalitarian. Perhaps, a competent drummer in a drum circle, acutely aware of everyone else’s competencies and able to dynamically adjust the participants behaviors.
Thanks Tom. You’re so right about the limitation of metaphors. Let’s take the good and reject the bad. Thanks for adding a metaphor that speaks to you.