We all have multiple identities. Some we are born with eg son, daughter; some we acquire eg husband or wife; some we are lucky to be eg father or mother. Others we get through life eg friend, team member in sports. We loose identities on death, injury, parting from life partners and sometimes rebuild what is lost although never in quite the same way. So, typically we have good grounding in wearing multiple hats, yet there are vast variations on how well we wear the hats.
In most instances, we learn the appropriate content of the identity partially from others and partially through experience – on the job so to say [There are some useful theories on http://tstjourney.wordpress.com/tag/society/ ].
Only much later we realize that there is no short-cut to experience. Have you heard “you don’t have the experience to do this job” and but ” you haven’t done this before, we have to take a more experienced candidate”, you “will not fit into this culture”?
Consciously working on developing multiple identities by putting yourself in new spaces (try NovoEd from Stanford for online courses), new people and places will add new perspectives and enrich your experience in these multiple identities.
If you are open to them, you will find most of these opportunities in your current work environment. There is a risk that you are seen as filling a particular box and within that a single identity. But, then it is up to you to show there is more to the person in how you engage with people around you and dependent on you and not only with customers and the bosses.
We get to associate particular characters with roles in movies – you don’t have to guess Bruce Willis’s role in Die Hart. Similarly, in corporate life roles are filled by particular characters. Yet they retain their other identities although you may not see those too often. Engaging with eg peers, other staff, suppliers, to hear about their life experiences will allow you to look behind the role and see the man or woman you are really dealing with. Just think of the many opportunities you may already have missed to do just that.
A concept of ‘managing by wandering around’ was popular in the ’90’s and if one restates it as learning by wandering around it provides you with ample opportunity to develop experience with the identities around you and to share those that you have too. Believe me, you will enjoy a richer work and life becoming more effective in your endeavours by doing so. Please note the word ‘becoming’ as this journey never ends.
Awareness of the identities you have will also come with such engagements. My favorite quote from Karl Weick’s book (Sensemaking in Organisations) in that context is “how can I know what I think till I see what I say”. The mirror on the wall doesn’t talk back, people do all the time in both the word and body language (thank you Gilan Gork at #IQForum) allowing one to adapt the identity being reflected and created. Being very clear on ‘why’ you do something and sharing that, allows you to explain the how and what (Simon Sinek’s ‘golden circle’). The ‘why’ creates the identity that people will follow.
Although one can learn behaviours, compensate in the areas of assertiveness, conflict style and emotional competence and tries to represent identities that provide advantages, under pressure, people seem to revert to inherent personality traits and identity that are associated with those. As people run companies and countries, it is not surprising to see certain identities being displayed in conflict situations. Companies seem better than countries in using their PR engines to package the messages as one can observe politicians making statements under pressure that are difficult to take back clearly displaying their core identity and role.
What was your favorite identity today?