The Identity Circle Newsletter                               Issue Eighteen | March 2013

Leaders wanted -- Chameleons need not apply


"Remember this: the singular way to be a stellar leader is by being yourself." These words, from Devora Zack, fellow author and friend, summarizes what has become a hot trend on the leadership landscape -- the need for self-awareness and self-examination, as prerequisites to being, and being seen as, a truly effective leader.


The race for self-awareness is in full swing. In fact, it's is now a mainstream media conversation among chief learning officers and others who are on the front lines of helping people succeed by getting real about who they really are (and really aren't). 


In the past couple of months, I've come across a host of articles that assert the importance of knowing -- and being -- "yourself" in the workplace. Not manufactured. Not nuanced simply to fit in. Rather, genuinely, authentically you. If that idea causes you to get hives, stop reading now and move on. I'm wasting your time.


If you're still with me, however, here are two articles about self-awareness in the workplace worth your time:

Both articles assert the value of self-awareness and self-examination in getting ahead in organizations today. In the Importance piece, the writer states that "building engagement is about unleashing individual strengths, rather than trying to fit people into specific molds or giving them skills training to-do lists." 


I imagine that you're nodding on the vertical after reading that -- especially, if you're on the receiving end of a boss's daily dictums. Here's another favorite passage of mine: "As a manager, becoming known as a person is one of the biggest facilitators of engagement."As a person. Not as a marketing guy, or line supervisor, or customer service rep, or one of a hundred other titles we use to describe people in organizations.   


At this point, you may be asking yourself, what's the big deal? We already operate that way! Well, this deal is big, really BIG.


Much ado about something


The ostensible reasons for being "known for who you are," revolve around becoming a better (read trustworthy) leader, and boosting employee engagement. But there is a larger force at play as this trend accelerates. 


The traditional notion of corporate culture -- that is, we all subscribe to similar shared values, despite our differences -- is ever so gradually yielding to the creation of 'personalized work communities' that thrive on the liberation of individuality -- a call for us to bring to our jobs those special characteristics that are innate within us, and which give rise to our unique, value-creating strengths. 


Some years ago, former American Airlines CEO, Robert Crandall, referred to American as a "community of effort." When I first heard the expression, I was struck by the possibilities it contained: not a corporation; a community, defined, literally, as a place where people need each other in order to survive. A community of effort, the image being one of thousands of individuals pulling their weight, each bringing to the "effort" their special talents, passions, and capacities. 


This wasn't some recipe for anarchy; rather, it suggested to me the dynamic, healthy tension between the value-creating identity of the institution and the value-creating identities of the individuals who compose that institution -- an interplay destined to produce important results for all concerned. 


I don't know if Crandall's vision was understood, let alone embraced by AA's employees. Frankly, I'll bet he was a decade or more ahead of his time. 


Today, with the emergence of self-awareness and self-examination as acceptable workplace behaviors, communities of effort -- demanding, and thriving on, what makes each of us unique human beings -- have a shot at succeeding, to the benefit of everyone from the employees themselves, to customers and investors.

The self-awareness trend is all over the place!


According to many sources, the need -- indeed, the wisdom -- of self-awareness and self-examination goes well beyond life in the workplace, into life itself. Here are two articles that shine a light on this fact:

The first of these two articles talks about the impact of self-awareness as a catalyst of leadership development among young people who are still in school. Bravo! That's long overdue, if you believe, as I do, that education is about more than rote learning.


But the second article, from The New York Times, is my favorite. It pulls no punches and makes some intriguing allusions to the connection between noodle-making and innovation in the corporate workplace. (Curious?) The writer states that "the most successful people we spoke with in business, entertainment, sports and the arts ... subjected themselves to fairly merciless self-examination that prompted reinvention..." 


A little uncomfortable? Good. That's the point. In the spirit of sports, no pain, no gain, right? 


In short, we're backing into a work-world that's seeking and rewarding personal vulnerability, personal  courage, and personal integrity. Chameleons need not apply. 


What's your personal brand?


Whatever it is, ground it in truth -- your truth. Authenticity is the sine qua non of leadership, whether that's business leadership or self-leadership. Indeed, the former depends on the latter.


In a world where getting ahead, or getting a job depends on standing out, having a rich personal brand is critical. There are many personal brand 'experts' who'd be happy to tell you what you must do to create yours. (Hint: It's not as difficult as you may imagine.) 


While coaches -- yes, I'm one -- can help you put the pieces of your personal brand together most effectively, no one knows you as well as you do. Start there. Don't focus, first, on your learned skills, your experience, or how you look; get underneath those assets and answer these questions:


  • What do I love?
  • What gives me joy?
  • What brings me alive?


Be honest. Don't cheat. Then, for each of your answers, ask why. Why is each of the things you named so important to you?  Embedded in these responses are clues to your potential for creating distinctive value in the world, which has everything to do with leadership, whether you aspire to lead a company, a family, a church, or simply yourself.


With the rise of self-awareness as a sought-after leadership attribute, the seeming distinction between one's professional life and one's personal life melts away. There is only one life and it belongs to you. The more you bring your authentic self into it, the happier everyone will be, including you. 


So, here is a mantra worth keeping in mind: 

Find yourself, be yourself, show yourself. The world is waiting.  


Let me know what you think. Weigh in on my blog at the Identity Beacon.

See you online! 

Larry Ackerman  


A Read More feature of Identity Insights
Discover How To...
 ... Shape your company's future by studying its past


Building self-awareness through self-examination isn't just for humans; it applies equally to organizations and can have a concrete impact on the company's direction. With that in mind, here's an article from the Harvard Business Review 

that explains the power of corporate history as a key to getting the future right. As the authors state, "The history of the enterprise can instill a sense of identity and purpose and suggest the goals that will resonate." Check it out.    




(c) 2013  Identity Insights is a trademark of The Identity Circle LLC.  


Larry Ackerman 2
Larry Ackerman
Founder and President
The Identity Circle LLC
"Find yourself, 
be yourself,  
show yourself.  
The world is waiting." 
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