With Martin G. Moore

Episode #292

Crafting Your Leadership Identity: Q&A with Marty and Em

There are a number of elements that contribute to your leadership identity. Many leaders let their identity form organically, without much conscious thought or planning. That’s fine, but there’s an enormous amount of upside to be captured, if you choose to be deliberate and methodical in your approach.

For every leader, regardless of level, industry, company size, or location, there are a number of foundational aspects of leadership that require a level of competence… but only if you want your people to thrive and perform, that is!

Because every individual is different, the way you interpret and apply these fundamentals may also be vastly different. The best leaders understand how to apply their unique style, personality, and values to a framework of strong leadership that’s guaranteed to produce extraordinary outcomes.

How deliberate are you in crafting your leadership identity? Are you thoughtful about how to integrate your own style into the tried and trusted foundations of high-performance leadership? Or are you, like many leaders, happy to leave it to chance?

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Episode #292 Crafting Your Leadership Identity: Q&A with Marty and Em


There are a few things that contribute to your leadership identity. We need to start with the underlying framework that every leader needs to have in their kit bag, which should be reasonably common… but then we need to build our individuality over the top of this.

We talk about your leadership fingerprint – that uniqueness that you bring to the role. We also talk about your personal leadership “user manual”, which is an awesome way to let your people know what to expect from you.

But why is it so important to have your own leadership identity?

I think probably the most important thing is that it’s hard to do it any other way. Every individual is different. Everyone has different experiences, upbringings, preferences, and personalities, and all of these feed into who you are.

Whereas you’re going to need some really strong fundamentals for how to lead people, by the same token, you’ve still got to be you. People talk a lot about authenticity, which I’ll go into shortly, but it’s really about being who you are and still being able to be a strong leader within that.

If you’re not, people are going to pick it – it will show up as a lack of authenticity, which destroys trust.


Your leadership identity has to naturally evolve – raw talent isn’t enough.

Some people are more predisposed to leadership than others, and we know that. The difficulty is that if you just go by your natural instincts and you don’t have the framework for strong leadership, a lot of this stuff is actually counterintuitive.

Let me give you an example: I played a lot of team sports when I was growing up. In team sports, “leading from the front” means a completely different thing than it does in business. You have to be aware of the fact that the context of business is slightly different when you’re leading people.

On a football field, for example, leading from the front means you are putting in the most effort; you are doing the most work; you are showing people how to rise up in times when you’re going through adversity. And everyone follows you because you are setting the example for them for what they need to do. You model the exact performance you want from each team member.

In business, the concept is slightly different. OK, you still need to lead from the front, but you do it in a completely different way. You don’t do your people’s work for them. You’re not the captain of the team with the same job as the other players. You’re the coach on the sideline. You are helping people to lift to be their best. And the only way you can do that is by stretching them and letting them do their jobs – not by doing their jobs as an example for them.

In that context, leading from the front means something totally different. It means you’re demonstrating the right attributes, the right characteristics, the right values. You’re showing them commitment to the job; you’re showing them a standard of excellence; you’re showing them that you’re accountable for what goes on, but still in the context of your own role.

That’s just one of the subtleties that doesn’t translate well between the natural leadership of someone who’s come through as a captain of a sporting team, and someone who’s got to lead in a corporate environment with many layers of people below them.

So talent, plus a solid leadership performance framework, can combine to form your leadership identity.  But they don’t just automatically integrate themselves. You need to do a lot of work to actually practice the skill of leadership. It takes repetition, like anything else. You’ve got to do your 10,000 hours of high-quality, dedicated practice if you want to be expert at anything.

The repetition helps you to consolidate the principles that you need, the foundations of leadership, and then to build into that your own personal, individual uniqueness. And that’s not easy to do. It takes a lot of thought. It takes a lot of deliberate, methodical planning about how you want to incorporate things, and ensure that they’re consistent with who you are. Because if you don’t have that level of congruence between who you are and the way you’re acting, people will see that, and it results in lack of trust.


We know that a lot of leadership frameworks aren’t very implementable. There’s a lot of stuff out in the world that’s aspirational and motivational and, although this can be useful, it’s not practical enough to really do anything with.

When we talk about practical leadership tools, we’re talking about the things that you can take and use every single day to get better at a particular element of leadership: whether it’s working at the right level, becoming more resilient, handling ambiguity better, or making decisions in a more rapid but methodical way. There are a lot of things that you can work on depending on what you feel as though you need to incorporate into your leadership repertoire at any given point.

When we developed our Leadership Beyond the Theory program, we were focused on the bedrock – that foundational level that says, “If you do these things using these tools, you’ll be better at leading in this way.”… regardless of where you are in your leadership career.

But we also knew that everyone’s going to be at a different stage in their leadership journey, and they’ll need to apply the tools and principles completely differently, depending on their unique personality and experiences.

For example, when applying the critical principle of working at the right level, some leaders are going to be naturally very nurturing… whereas other leaders are going to be more challenging to their people and expect them to step up and fill that vacuum that they leave. In this way, working at the right level may look very different based on how much support and nurturing that leader is prepared to give people who they’re trying to coach and mentor through the process.

As an individual, when you try and work out how you’re going to incorporate that, it’s all about, “How do I do this in a way that’s natural for me, that’s consistent with who I want to be as a leader, that supports my values set?

But the principle of working at the right level is identical. No matter who you are, no matter what level you’re operating at, no matter what industry you’re in or where you live, the principles are the same. It’s your deep understanding of the principle that enables you to then incorporate it into your own style.


The primary purpose of leadership is to be able to drive your team to get the right results – to create superior performance, and extraordinary value for your most critical stakeholders. Remember, leadership’s all about getting results – so you have to deliver value, regardless of anything else you choose to do. But different leaders with different identities will do it a slightly different way.

More than anything else, you need to establish trust in your team. And you can’t establish trust unless you have a level of congruence. But you also need a level of competence and skill. And you need to apply some of the principles that are absolutely necessary to get outstanding results, like driving single-point accountability through your team – not having an autonomous collective that basically makes all their decisions by consensus.

Having those fundamentals and then working out how to leverage them is really important.

The object of the exercise is to build trust. You can’t do the hard work of leadership without it. And to do that, you need to have some empathy for your people. I’m not saying that you need to be sympathetic. What I’m saying is, you need to be able to see the world through your people’s eyes. You need to be able to show them that you understand them, and you can talk to them on their level and you can relate to them. Once you begin to relate to people in a connected way, they’ll start to trust you.

Of course, they won’t fully trust you until you show them how you respond when things go badly: every leader can sail in a calm sea, right? It’s when things go badly that people look to you and say, “Well, what happens now? Am I going to get hung out to dry or am I going to be supported?” Those critical moments are either the icing on the cake that consolidate trust, or they destroy everything you’ve built prior to that.

Any dissonance between what you say you’ll do, and what you actually do in practice is incredibly unnerving. It just makes people think, “I don’t know what to expect from this person.

It’s also incredibly common knowing because leaders revert to type when the pressure is on. We all do. Our natural tendency is to go back to what we know best – what we’re most comfortable with. This is despite the fact that we might be very controlled and methodical about how we present ourselves to the world. Virtually everyone comes to work with their game face on – a mask of some sort.

What does it take to make that game face crack? What is it that makes it impossible for the leader to continue in a calm and rational way, but instead to give into the fear that comes when things go wrong?

People are always going to want to know that you’re good under pressure. This is why we talk in Leadership Beyond the Theory, specifically about the concept of grace under pressure. It’s the complete congruence between what you’re showing on the outside, and what you feel on the inside – that calm, rational, logical, supportive approach to problems, no matter how dire they might be.

You don’t feel stressed or pressured or anxious. You feel as though you’re in control, and your people feel that way too. That’s a pretty useful characteristic to have as part of your leadership identity!


Start by knowing yourself. Introspection and self-awareness are key elements that you need if you want to improve. You can’t work out how to get better if you don’t know where you’re weak, and you don’t know where you’re strong.

It’s really important to know your strengths and weaknesses – not just what you’re good at, but also what is it that really lights you up? What do you enjoy doing? Your strengths are the combination of these two things, so ask yourself: “What am I good at?” and “What do I like doing?” Your weaknesses are the areas in which you should be able to perform, and may be expected to perform, but you actually can’t perform, for one reason or another.

I think there are varying degrees of weaknesses, some of which are more impactful than others. I’ve seen some leaders who have weaknesses that I would call showstoppers. When I would see these, my very strong feedback would be, “Until you resolve that weakness, I can’t promote you to the next level because the next level requires X, Y, or Z. And if you don’t have that, it’s simply not going to work”.

I’ve had many of those conversations. But more commonly, self-awareness lets you think about positive improvement : “Okay, if I were to put time and energy into improving, what area would give me the biggest bang for buck? Where would I start if I wanted to get better? What’s the thing that prevents me from being my best when I’m leading? What’s the thing that scares me or that I can see clearly isn’t getting results and serving my team the way it should?

Start there. Start simple, start small, and build your confidence as you build your leadership identity..

Over time, you’ll experience many changes in your leadership identity – it’s constantly evolving. But how do you know what’s really changing, and how can you maintain awareness of your forward progress? “What has my leadership identity morphed into? Is it what I want it to be?

One way to keep track is to just look at the scoreboard. “Am I getting results?

This is the acid test for any leader – achieving superior performance and results. So, ask yourself, “Are my results where I want them to be?” If they’re not, think about what you’re doing. Think about the inputs, think about the front end of what you’re doing. Are you doing the things that should make you successful, logically? That’s a good place to start.

The other thing is that if you’re doing something that isn’t consistent with your value set or your approach or the way you want to be as a leader, it will feel that something’s off. It’ll feel like, “Well, this isn’t quite right.

It happens all the time in business – as a leader you’ll often be asked to do something by your boss that you don’t feel is the right thing, or you don’t feel good about, or you feel as though there’s a better way. Those are the critical points where you either say, “Look, I’m not up for this. I don’t think this is the right way to treat people” or “I don’t think this is the best thing for the business“, and then you have that out with your boss.

Many leaders who are conflict averse can’t do that. And so the boss says, “I need you to go away and do this for me.” The dutiful leader says, “Sure, boss, I’ll do it” and then finds herself in a conundrum: “I know I’ve agreed to do this. I know that the boss wants me to do this, but I don’t feel as though it’s something that I should do.” This causes a gradual erosion of your confidence and self-respect, as a result of doing too many of the things you know aren’t right, or you don’t feel are consistent with who you are.

This happens to all of us to some extent. You can’t walk out of a job the first time your boss says, “I want you to do something“, and you say, “I don’t agree. You know what you can do with your job, boss!“… that’s not the way that it normally rolls out. But there’s a real strength and a real power in being able to have the conversation with your boss where you say, “Look, I just don’t agree with this for these reasons“.

But if you get pushed too far away from where your values set is, then eventually you’ll be left with only one option: to vote with your feet.


If you want to explore this concept further, we have a host of free tools, the most relevant being:

Remember, you will have a level of uniqueness to how you behave and perform as a leader. But despite that, you still have to have the foundational elements of what good leadership is. If you want to be a strong leader who gets results, there are certain things that are predictably useful, and have a huge benefit: they’re good for the team, they’re good for you as a leader, and they’re good for the organization you are leading in.

Having self-awareness to know who you are, to know what’s important to you, to know your strengths and weaknesses, is incredibly important. Oftentimes, a trusted advisor can be helpful to you in gaining that self-awareness. A trusted advisor will give you the feedback you need, not necessarily the feedback you want!

You need to bear in mind that there are nuances between the natural leadership style that you might’ve learned as a child growing up, and what’s required in a multilayer organization where you have to lead large teams of people.

And then, of course, there are the leadership staples of trust, empathy, and congruence. Do your people see you as a congruent leader, who sticks by your values and principles when times get tough and when the pressure’s on?

The most important thing is that you are deliberate and thoughtful about how to craft your leadership identity… in a way that enables you to deploy the proven tools and techniques of high-performance leadership, while still letting you be you!



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