As humans, most of us are naturally inclined to dream big. We’re always searching for a bigger house, a better job, a greater salary—we’re constantly thinking about the next step in our personal or professional lives. Oftentimes, these aspirations can motivate us to work harder and smarter to achieve them, but I find that the majority of us are confused about how to make that jump from the present state of things to the more idealized future.
Our leadership identities are no different—we all want to be better, more effective leaders in the workplace, capable of inspiring anyone and everyone. With that in mind, it’s crucial you regularly ask yourself the following question: who do I want to be, who am I currently, and how do I close that gap?
In a past article, I spoke about the importance of aligning organizational values to avoid miscommunication and organizational incongruence. But that’s on the structural level; what I’m referring to now is on the micro, or individual level. Is there congruence between who you think you are and how you’re actually perceived by others? Do your leadership actions parallel your leadership philosophy? What steps can you take to align your present self with your future, more enhanced self?
When I work out in my house, I usually exercise in front of a window. The other day, I noticed myself fixating on my reflection, and how I could see two versions of myself represented. On the one hand, I saw the Heather I currently am. On the other hand, I saw the Heather I strive to be: she’s more content, healthier, and a little more in shape. I wondered what types of choices I could make to move myself closer to that idealized sense of self. Working out was a step in the right direction, but I realized I needed to go deeper than that.
This is the kind of introspection caring leaders should be engaging in on a regular basis. It requires examining your personal history, critical incidents in your life, your personality, your communication style, and everything else that impacts how you interact with others, and determining what about those influences is preventing you from doing and being better. I also recommend soliciting feedback from those who look to you for guidance, and learning how you’re perceived from an outside perspective. You can use 360-degree feedback assessments, performance reviews, or even one-on-one conversations with your peers or managers. However you choose to connect with constructive criticism, it’s a pivotal part of aligning with your aspirational leadership identity.
For caring leaders, it is an intentional choice to say, “I want my people to know I care for them, so I’m going to take specific actions to make sure they know.” When we think about who we want to be, it’s easy to get paralyzed with fear, uncertainty, or harmful self-judgment. But making that intentional choice to reflect and recalibrate is a valid and necessary first step towards self-improvement. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and give yourself the space to make internal improvements over time. Whoever you strive to be as a leader, know that one day you will get there, and that you (and perhaps you alone) have the most agency in seizing that future.