Your Identity As a Leader

School of clown fish in a fish tank

I was recently gifted a book on leadership called How to Lead When You’re not in Charge (Clay Scroggins, Zondervan, 2017). I’m only a couple chapters in but Scroggins gets right to the point in the beginning of the book and explains that there’s a difference between authority and influence. Many people assume they must have authority to be able to influence others. That’s not true and Scroggins (so far) does a good job explaining why.

Another thing vitally important aspect of leadership is our sense of identity: Who you believe you are has a profound impact on your leadership. Scroggins addressed that early in chapter 2, but I have some disagreement with his approach. Let me explain.

Scroggins said, “Few things are as crucial to who you are than how you see yourself and how others see you. The problem with identity is that it’s…squishy. Like Jell-O, it’s challenging to pin to the wall.” (p. 38)

This, I pretty much agree with. Identity is a squishy concept. Ask 10 people to define personal identity and I’m sure you’ll get overlapping but also very distinct responses. To some it is demographic data. To others it is image. And for some it is a profile of accomplishment. Still others say it is about a person’s abilities. Some will define it as potential.

The concept of identity is squishy.

Identity is also squishy because, for many, self identity is a quickly shifting construct. In one season of life identity may be tied to professional interests and elements. For another season, different elements of professional life drive identity. At the same or different times, identity may be tied to family status. Today, I’m an empty-nester. Just a couple years ago, my kids were living at home and in a few months they’ll be back for the summer. No longer an empty-nester…for a while.

Identity also shifts with surprises. Sudden financial failures or windfalls, an expected death or surprise pregnancy, a major illness or an amazing job offer can all suddenly and dramatically shift your identity.

Squishy. Yes.

The problem is that Scroggins and most of us are trying to define identity by how we see ourselves and how we perceive others’ seeing ourselves. It is a constantly shifting construct.

Here’s an example. One day you’re on top of the world. Your job and life are going very well. Your Identity: I’m an effective, in charge dude! Life is great! The next day you learn your son has been skipping classes at college and was arrested on drug charges. Your Identity: I’m a failure as a father and how am I gonna be able to keep it together on the job while I straighten this out?

Scroggins explains why this is so absolutely critical in the context of leadership:
“Your sense of identity directs you in every situation. It is foundational, determining the level of confidence you have when you challenge your boss in a disagreement. It established your sense of security when you face doubts. It’s what enables you to process your emotions during tense conversations.” (p. 38)

Yep. That’s correct. Sense of identity invades absolutely everything you think, say, and do. As long identity is defined by self-perception and others’ perceptions it will be no more consistent or reliable than the shape of a school of clown fish on a tropical reef.

Later in chapter 2, Scroggins points out several elements that shape our sense of identity. He calls these “the architecture of identity.” (pp. 46-52) They include:

  • Your Past—family of origin, race, gender, citizenship, socioeconomic class
  • Your People—perception of how others identify you
  • Your Personality—hardwired cognitive and social tendencies, talents, skills
  • Your Purpose—your answer to Why am I here?
  • Your Priorities—faith, deepest values, beliefs

Scroggins said, “your identity is the conception you have of yourself” (p. 46) and the five elements above are its components.

Here’s where I differ with Scroggins. While there is truth in what he about the architecture of identity (and his book explains this all in more detail than I can here), he barely mentions that God has anything to say about our identity. Nor does Scroggins point out that what God says about us is the bedrock foundation of our identity.

In fact, what God says about who you are is the standard against which all other thoughts about self-identity must be compared for truth and value.

If you’re a believer in what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross, that He paid the debt you owe for your sin, then you have a unique identity that should be the primary driver in how you think, act, and speak. (Note that we believers don’t always do this well. We all act in a manner inconsistent with our identity from time-to-time.)

What’s your identity in Christ? Here are a few key points.

  • You are raised up with Christ into eternal life. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
  • You are cleansed of sin in God’s eyes. (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Colossians 1:13-14)
  • You are a new creature. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • You are an ambassadors for Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  • You are God’s child. (John 1:12)
  • You are a friend of Christ. (John 15:15)
  • You are justified. (Romans 5:1)
  • You have been bought with a price and belong to God. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
  • You are complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:9-10)
  • …and more and more…

For a brief study on your identity in Christ and a longer (and amazing!) list of truths about your identity see Cru’s online Bible study, “Who Am I?

Your sense of identity, whether it’s in Christ or not, has a profound impact on your leadership. Self-identity, shifting or solid, has a powerful impact on the outcome of your leadership.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by Pratik Mehta. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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