3 Steps To Break Free From Your Identity Crisis

Authenticity is the key to being other-directed and seeing the value of different perspectives to truly lead inclusively
3 Steps To Break Free From Your Identity Crisis
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In a previous post, I shared two lines from a negative performance review of an employee whose supervisor wrote: “You challenge my direction too much. You do more than I ask you to do.” The punch line was that the person being reviewed had been hired because she would do those things at the company.

Many leaders I shared that review with felt I did not come down hard enough on the supervisor; none thought I was too easy on the employee. But this leader and the countless leaders I have met like him are not causes of the problem with inclusive leadership. They are symptoms. The problem is that most businesses have stripped people of their identities—leaders and employees alike—leading to a leadership identity crisis that infects businesses across America.

Evaluating Performance

Do you know who you are, what you are known for, stand for and solve for? Most leaders don’t. They think that they do and have evolved to be inclusive as leaders – they even think they have embraced diversity of thought to embrace and value differences in the people they lead. According to my research and supporting data from my organization’s Diversity of Thought Assessment, 81% of the 12,000+ leaders surveyed said that they always embrace diversity of thought and utilize their people’s individual strengths.

Do you think their employees agreed? Of course not.

Simply put, leaders who think they are evolving are the ones who don't know how to evaluate their own performance. But if their performance is measured by a metric of doing what they are told to do, how would they know the difference? They often think they are evolving and influencing when they are actually stagnant, if not weakening.

Those are not the kinds of leaders who will take companies into the future. They will take them to the next quarterly earnings report but have less and less influence from there, especially with employees. That’s what happens when you have leaders who have been at companies for as little as 5 and certainly 10 or more years. Once their leadership is established, who at the company is going to recalibrate their leadership identity and convince them that they don't have all the answers, are out of touch in the workplace and marketplace, and are not evolving? Very few.

Maintaining Goals

That’s when identity crises happen when leaders lack clarity and understanding about what they solve for and thus don't know where they best fit or how to optimally contribute to the evolution of the business. When in identity crisis mode, they are in substitution thinking mode because the business is defining them. They get trapped in what the business wants them to be. That’s not the path to evolving inclusive leadership as a growth strategy and ensuring the marketplace does not pass those leaders and the company by.

Only when leaders are being their most authentic selves, sharing and consistently living them every day, can they evolve into the inclusive leader most businesses and America needs and appreciate that in others. Like that employee who was doing what she needed to do to go above and beyond and evolve in a way that was true to her identity. Her boss was not. Her fear was thus compounded by the feeling she is working for a person who is making her irrelevant by taking her backwards not forwards.

Redefining Leadership

Getting out of this identity crisis begins by being other-directed and seeing the value of different perspectives but to truly solve for inclusive leadership and evolve, companies and their leaders must:

  1. Create an inclusive environment where leaders are aware of how employees and customers can influence the future.
  2. Redefine the accountability metrics for how we measure and reward a high performance culture.  
  3. Place inclusive leadership in the center of where growth lies – in strategy and transformation.

Here’s how Lorie Valle-Yañez, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at MassMutual, explains her approach to these steps:

"I am a firm believer of bringing people to the table with vastly different skill sets and backgrounds. No one on my team is a diversity practitioner except me. I have a marketing person, a communications person, and benefits person on my team. When we first started, we were very focused on the ‘D’ [in Diversity & Inclusion], and then, we had to make a hard shift to the ‘I’ and the idea that we need to differently as opposed to just saying that our doors are open to all people as long as you fit in.

To create a culture where people can thrive, we may need to rethink the way that we are."

That approach is one way inclusive leadership maximizes organizational and people potential in order to grow and evolve together. Allow them to challenge direction and encourage them to passionately go above and beyond instead of stripping them of their identities and relevancy. Embracing each authentically is how all people we influence more and without that influence we will never look at inclusive leadership as a growth strategy.

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