Leadership is a Career Pinnacle, it can also Bring on an Identity Crisis
Firsts are exciting, they’re also confusing. We flop about. We don’t know what we’re doing. I remember my early days of leadership. Though I never expected to be a COO I recognized it as a career pinnacle. It was also the most confusing time of my career. My brain constantly rattled with questions. What value did I really bring? Did I deserve the role? Why did people see me as powerful when I felt like one of the team? I didn’t feel like a leader, I also didn’t feel quite like myself. I didn’t realize how much I’d have to change my concept of myself until much later. It took months to unpack and make sense of my experience.
When moving into a leadership role, folks often grapple with its full meaning. We might understand some parts while struggling with others. We don’t recognize that our emotional displays have a bigger impact than when we had less power. Or we don’t realize how much influence our words have. As we move through imposter syndrome, we don’t see ourselves as leaders. We might see ourselves as a fraud. At the same time, our conferred title means others see us as leaders. The team watches our behavior, looks for clues on how they should behave. We’re baffled when their perception doesn’t match with how we perceive ourselves.
Being a new leader is disorienting. We have to confront how we see ourselves, how we add value. We hit our career pinnacle, yet find ourselves more confused than ever. We feel like we don’t know who we are anymore.
We didn’t anticipate needing to shift our identity at work. This confusion isn’t too surprising. We don’t talk about identity at work much. For most of us, it operates in the background. It’s a shame we don’t talk about it more. Identity shapes us, helps us understand our place in the world, and gives us a sense of belonging. It’s incredibly important for well-being and making sense of the world — this includes our work life.
New leaders wrestle with their identity — who we are now, how the role changes how we work, how we act, and how we understand ourselves. In our previous role, we might have been seen as one of the people. We likely had little conferred power. A leadership title…