Self-Identity: Personal Directions
Self-identity refers to how individuals view themselves in relation to others—in particular, what individuals do to earn a living (e.g., plumber, teacher, lawyer, physician, researcher, executive), the official roles they take (e.g., leader or elected officer of a corporation, religious institution, or volunteer organization), and what they enjoy and create in their free time (e.g., gardener, photographer, golfer). This chapter addresses a leader's sense of career identity, for instance, as corporate officer, manager, or entrepreneur. Having a strong sense of identity is important because it directs behavior, and viewing oneself as a leader provides a focus for leadership behaviors. The term career implies what the person has done, is doing, and plans to do as an occupation. Career is often a dominant part of a leader's life, but not the only part, and a leader's self-identity can have several key components, some of which may have little to do with work. An individual's identity at any given time stems from what has occurred and where one is today (e.g., ones education, job experiences, current responsibilities). It is also prospective in terms of the goals that direct behavior.
The chapter first outlines a theory of career motivation because it highlights the genesis of self-identity. This approach holds that self-identity stems from insight and resilience, building on the first two chapters of this book, which explored self-insight and self-regulation, respectively. The chapter then focuses on how executives develop a sense of leadership identity. Leaders may alter or recreate their identities as they move into different stages of life and confront different life events (e.g., divorce, children leaving home, job change, promotion), and as they change the value they place on different roles and goals. Overall, this chapter is about the meaning of a leader's career identity, its sources, how it relates to other individual characteristics (in particular, resilience in the face of barriers and insight into oneself and the environment), how identity changes over time, and how identity affects leadership behavior.