Who do you want to become as a leader?

In 2009, I co-founded a community-focused movement in Serbia. At that time, I viewed myself primarily as a businessperson, working in the private sector, striving to make my community better. This business-minded identity hindered my work in the newly founded movement. Instead of forming connections, building relationships, and learning new community-organizing skills, I was focused on efficiency and budgets.

However, after two years, my experiences led to the emergence of my activist identity, which then became more dominant. My business persona almost vanished, and the activist in me rose. This shift in self-perception affected all aspects of my life. I became focused on people power and change. I saw opportunities for organizing & collective action everywhere. Even in my private-sector job, I was elected as a union representative and began organizing workers. How did adopting the activist identity lead me to exercise leadership in an entirely different way?

🔀 The Crossroads of Purpose

Imagine standing at a crossroads. To your left, a path labeled "Project Manager for Children's Mental Health." To your right, "Children's Mental Health Advocate." One path is a role, defined by tasks and responsibilities. The other is an identity, fueled by purpose and passion. This is the story of every leader, choosing between merely fulfilling a role or embracing an identity that resonates with their deepest values. It's not about "What do you want to do (when you grow up)?" - it's about "Who do you want to become?"

🦋 The Essence of Transformation

Leadership isn't just about the roles we occupy; it's about the identity we embody - who are we becoming? Our brains naturally act out our identities, turning them into self-fulfilling prophecies, which can be both great and awful. If you hold a fixed mindset identity (e.g., "I am a bad driver," "I am a poor public speaker," "I am not good with people"), your brain will validate these assumptions, and your behavior will reflect them. Conversely, adopting a growth mindset identity (e.g., "I am an activist," "I am a problem-solver") will prompt your brain to ensure your behaviors align with this positive self-image.

🪢 Identity and Habit: A Symbiotic Relationship

The key to unlocking our potential lies in understanding the powerful interplay between our identity and our habits. Habits, constituting 40% to 60% of our behavior, are the daily manifestations of our identity. They shape our reactions to conflict, stress, and challenges. Again, this is both an opportunity and a threat. The opportunity lies in the fact that, if we adopt a new growth mindset identity, it will start aligning many behaviors and habits simultaneously and will enable us to grow and change rapidly!

🏃 Example

Consider the difference between setting a goal to run a marathon and embracing the identity of a runner. Running a marathon is an excellent goal, but it's short-term and focuses just on that single task. On the other hand, "becoming a runner" implies an all-encompassing change. If you decide to become a runner, you'll not only start preparing for the race, but also develop new habits: eating, dressing, thinking, and reading like a runner.

When I was teaching my older daughter, Mila, to ride her toddler bike, she was scared. I talked to her and told her that she is a biker who has her own bike, one that she chose. She embraced that identity and began riding the toddler bike with pride - no fear! She even came home and told her mom, "I'm a biker, mom!" This illustrates the power of an identity shift and highlights self-authoring.

👥 The Power of Self-Authoring

Besides typical habits of your morning routine and similar habits, there are leadership habits too. What do you usually do when there is a conflict? When there is tension? How do you react to stress, under pressure, when you have power, when others depend on you, when there is injustice… And all of these are expressions of your identity.

What we are proposing here today is that you get to create your own self! You can be a self-author. You might be saying to yourself that you can’t speak in public, you can’t handle conflict well because “that’s who you are.” How many of you said something like “This is just who I am? That is an identity trap. A fixed mindset. Today, we challenge you to embrace the concept of self-authoring: the intentional journey of shaping your own identity. Break free from the "this is just who I am" mentality.

🚀 Action Item: Who Do You Want to Become?

Reflect on the following questions to identify a high-impact habit that aligns with your desired identity:

1️⃣ Choose 1 positive identity that you want to adopt - Who do you want to become?

  • A runner, activist, advocate for XYZ, inspiring speaker

2️⃣ What are the 3 - 5 things that this new identity always does?

  • Run every morning, eat healthy, dress sporty

3️⃣ What are the 3 - 5 things that this new identity NEVER does?

  • Never eats sweets, never skips running even when it's raining, never goes to bed after 10 pm

4️⃣ For the next 2 weeks start each day by reading these ALWAYS and NEVER for your new identity in the morning

📚 Book Recommendation: "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" by Carol S. Dweck

To deepen your understanding of how identity influences our actions and growth, we recommend "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" by Carol S. Dweck. This groundbreaking book will provide you with insights into:

  1. The difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

  2. How our beliefs about our own abilities impact our success.

  3. Strategies for fostering a growth mindset in ourselves and others.

  4. The power of belief in overcoming challenges and reaching our full potential.

Read a full book summary HERE.

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