The Armor of Identity

Still coming down off a major training engagement, my brain is having a hard time decompressing. The “go go go” of non-stop learning, design, redesign, practice, launch, tweak, and present over the past 5 months was brought to you by Adrenaline: The You Can Do It hormone. It was an awesome experience – 300+ leaders, 4 states, and 20 2-day trainings. In a pandemic. Que the gold stars.

Slowing down, however, always takes me longer than ramping up. Perhaps it is the way I am wired, or perhaps it is because I am brain-forward, but it is a real challenge to take a deep breath, take a life inventory and decompress in meaningful ways, especially when decompression often means reading to continue to add to my knowledge base to prepare for the next launch. Do you see what I see, the endless cycle and the 7 unread, recently purchased books sitting on my bookshelf?

As I was trying to unwind and get myself to sleep last evening, I started to think about Brené Brown’s statement “Who We Are Is How We Lead”. I don’t know if it was because I was tired, or it was late, but the statement hit me differently. If it is true, that who we are is how we lead, then we have to strip that down even further and ask ourselves “Who are we really?”

Often times we associate leadership almost exclusively with business, but that is doing the role of leader a real disservice. According to Brown, a leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and developing that potential. It isn’t about titles, or C-suite offices, or even the number of followers one has, it’s about the willingness to do what’s right even if it’s hard. It’s about putting people first and problems second.

Leadership has many facets. Chances are you are a leader in ways you don’t readily recognize – parent, community member, mentor, volunteer, caregiver, church elder. We all play leadership roles we take for granted and perhaps the most overlooked leadership role we play is with our own self-leadership, which leads me back to my question “Who are we really?”.

Take a moment and think this through: What if starting today you were stripped of your career, your job title, your accomplishments and your influence? What if you decided to take off the armor of identity you have been wearing and instead looked in the mirror at who you really were without those things as a shield. What would you see?

If you are anything like me, you have a lot of your identity and self-worth tied up in your career and the work that you do. If I am being honest, it makes me a little woozy and a lot terrified to think about. Who am I without the armor of my accomplishments? From someone who has been hustling all her life to find meaning and worthiness in the Sisyphus-esque attempts at being “good enough” through accomplishing things, I can tell you there is life beyond. We have inherent worthiness if we allow ourselves to, and it turns out it is enough.

So who am I, and how does that translate into my leadership? I have articulated my three personal tenets of leadership as Authentic, Imperfect and Fully Human. That’s who I am, that’s how I want people to experience me, and that’s how I lead. It’s evolved over time, and it will continue to. The permission to be who I am is exquisite. “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson

The best part about the willingness to look and see who we really are is that we always – ALWAYS – reserve the right to continue to evolve. As leaders, we get to redefine how we want to show up and create new meaning along the way. We get the chance to build, repair and shift our relationships through practicing new behaviors and articulating our intentions. These different chapters and seasons are all part of the leadership evolution.

Who we are is how we lead. Who are you really?

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