6 Tips to Develop Your Own Leadership Identity

Learn how to think of yourself as a manager, win the respect of others, and develop your own unique leadership identity today.

Being a manager is rewarding. It’s exciting to watch your employees set goals and to help them achieve their dreams. It’s less exciting dealing with conflict, making difficult calls, and giving constructive feedback. Even if you’re a natural leader, you may find it challenging to define yourself as one. 

How you handle a variety of situations will determine your identity to others. Let’s take a look at what leadership identity is, the five layers that form one’s identity, and how you can define your own unique style. 

What is leadership identity?

Leadership identity is the extent to which one views themself as a leader. It’s also your presence at work. This presence includes your attitude, readiness to make an impact in your organization, and how you “show up” everyday. You’ll have many leadership identities over the course of your career; your concept of yourself and how others view you in the workplace is constantly changing. 

Developing an identity is important because doing so will drive you closer to your personal and professional goals. As we grow our self-awareness, we allow our leadership identity to take shape. Luckily, you’re in the driver’s seat and have quite a bit of influence over how others will perceive you.

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The layers of leadership identity

According to Dr. Gregory Stebbins, founder and master coach at PeopleSavvy, there are five layers that form one’s leadership identity. These layers are behaviour, interpersonal skills, attitudes, values, beliefs, and assumptions. Each layer of identity influences the next. 

1Behaviour

When you meet a new person, the first piece of their personal identity you observe is their behaviour. As you shake hands with a new colleague, you notice whether they’re warm, welcoming, cold, awkward, or a combination of multiple behaviours. As you interact more frequently with the individual, your view of their identity forms. Our self-initiated behaviours communicate a lot about us to others. This layer of our personal brand can be influenced by others. For example, you may choose to conduct yourself in a more professional manner around your supervisor. To have an effective leadership identity, you’ll want to display behaviors that indicate confidence, competence, warmth, and assertiveness. 

2Interpersonal skills

Your interpersonal skills directly impact how well you’re able to form relationships with others in the workplace. As a manager, skills like dependability, active listening, collaboration, and the ability to motivate others will determine how others view your leadership. It comes as no surprise that leaders with excellent interpersonal skills are known to produce more productive teams. Fostering interpersonal relationships is key to forming a positive leadership identity! 

3Attitudes

Some managers will behave similarly but possess different attitudes. For example, a leader who is warmhearted and compassionate may be motivated by varying factors. While one individual believes that compassion is an important management trait, another’s compassion may be prompted by an employee who is dealing with challenges. Some attitudes are driven by situations, while others are innate characteristics. To develop an effective leadership identity, one needs to become aware of their attitudes toward a variety of scenarios in the workplace and work to improve them. 

4Values

Your leadership is also a reflection of your personal values. What you value as an individual will influence your attitude, mindset, actions, and overall presence. Our individual values exist in a hierarchy and are prone to change throughout our lives. It’s common for managers to sacrifice lower-level values to keep what they truly care about at the forefront of their leadership. It’s important to revisit your values often so you can understand your biases and make executive decisions that are in line with your team’s goals. 

5Beliefs and assumptions

The final layer of leadership identity is based on your beliefs and assumptions. Our belief systems begin forming during childhood when we take on the views of those around us. We hold many beliefs from our families and friends as true throughout our lives and develop others through personal experiences and feelings. We may not even be aware of some of our beliefs that sit at an unconscious level. For example, you may not realize that your leadership identity is demanding until you endure a stressful situation and realize that your employees feel overworked and burnt out by your commands. 

How to develop your leadership identity 

1Develop self-awareness

Self-awareness is our ability to focus on ourselves and how our actions, thoughts, and emotions align with our internal standards. To develop self-awareness, you need to keep an open mind, seek feedback, and work to understand your strengths and weaknesses. By understanding how we handle stressful situations, process information, and interact with others, we can create a more harmonious environment for all. When you develop self-awareness, you’ll better relate to colleagues, look at issues objectively, and be an overall more mindful leader. 

2Ask for feedback 

If you want to help your team thrive, you need to create a culture where giving, receiving, and implementing feedback is normalized. As a manager, you should be asking for regular feedback too so you can develop a leadership identity that is in line with your own goals.  Share real-time feedback on meetings, projects, and performance using Fellow’s feedback feature. By incorporating opportunities for feedback into your team’s day-to-day operations, you’ll learn how you’re perceived by teammates. Asking for regular feedback from subordinates and other leaders within your organization will help you uncover areas for development.

3Create your ideal definition of leadership

Some managers have been leading for years but haven’t thought about what it means to be a leader. Ask yourself: what do leaders do? Once you answer the question, define what type of leader you’d like to be and use this definition to guide your identity. For example, you may think that above all else, the job of a leader is to motivate and guide employees to achieve both personal and team objectives. You may also see yourself as a resource person and mentor whose main goal is to drive results for the company. No matter what your ideal definition is, it should give you some insight on your behaviours, values, and priorities. 

4Define and follow your core values 

Your core values should represent who you are and who you want to become. Think of your “why” and go from there. Did you become a leader because you want to promote equity and inclusion within your organization? Perhaps you chose to pursue your career path because you thought you could advance your particular field of work? Once you outline your “why,” define which values align with your purpose. Examples of common core values include loyalty, humility, compassion, honesty, and integrity. Each time you make a decision, refer back to this list. 

5Be realistic about your goals 

Nobody wants to be known as the unrealistic leader! Each time you set a personal goal, a goal for your team, or a large-scale goal for your company, make sure it is within reason. Follow the SMART goals method. Ask yourself: is my objective specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound? If it’s not, go back to the drawing board. Ensure that you can progress towards your goal at a reasonable pace using your available resources. This way, your employees will know that you’re a dependable, confident decision maker who is ready to lead the team to success!

6Develop an effective communication style 

Great leadership begins with great communication. If you want to develop effective relationships with your employees, you’ll need to be able to maintain open lines of communication. Prioritize different methods, including verbal communication in person or via phone call, and asynchronous communication via email or Slack. Learn how to be an active listener and aim to know how each person on your team likes to receive feedback. Be accessible to your employees and set time aside to chat with each person one-on-one. Be clear and honest in mass communications with your team or organization. 

Parting advice

Take the first step to develop your own unique leadership identity today. Understand the five key layers that influence your management style and decide on what impact you want to make. Work with your colleagues, supervisor, and subordinates to determine what kind of leader would be best equipped to guide your team or company to achieve outlined goals and create your own definition of effective leadership. Then, take an honest look at your current leadership identity without any attachment to it being right or wrong. Take small steps each day to develop the traits you admire, and before you know it, your ideal leadership identity will be a reality. 


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About the author

Brier Cook

Brier is a communications professional and freelance content writer based in Ottawa. She currently works as an Engagement Strategy Advisor for Carleton University. She is passionate about using creative marketing to solve business challenges. In her spare time, she’s either reading fiction, trying out a new fitness class, playing guitar, or cooking a recipe from TikTok.

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