Questions of identity

QUESTIONS OF IDENTITY

Dr Ali Fenwick|Behavioural scientist

In today’s rapidly changing work environment, it is becoming increasingly important to have leaders who can inspire, connect and engage a workforce operating in a complex and uncertain business environment. However, as physical boundaries within organisations steadily disappear, managers need to look for more durable attachment and engagement approaches. The ability to lead effectively today means the ability to connect with employees at a cognitive level that can transcend the physical premises of the workplace. Although general leadership principles support this key objective, little focus has been given to the value of leveraging the idea of ‘identity’ at work to inspire productivity and retention.

Research shows that triggering and fostering strong social identities at work, like being a team member and belonging to a professional network, can help individual employees to understand who they are and
motivate them to act in favour of organisational interests

This brings us to identity leadership – which means what exactly? Identity leadership seeks to help employees to understand the ‘why’ behind their work, as well as how that work fits into the bigger picture, which can provide a more meaningful experience and promote employee wellbeing. This kind of leadership is pivotal in connecting individual employees to a common goal and purpose, while at the same time allowing their individual identities to flourish.

A key point is that everyone has multiple identities. The different identities we show throughout the day – perhaps, for example, being a parent, a team leader, an environmentalist and a religious believer – affect our thinking and behaviour in different ways. This is the same at work. Different work identities can have varying effects on work attitudes and behaviours. Being called a Barista instead of a coffee-maker can significantly affect how you behave at work and interact with customers, and even with whom you associate. And my research shows that triggering and fostering strong social identities at work, like being a team member and belonging to a professional network, can help individual employees to understand who they are and motivate them to act in favour of organisational interests.

Today’s changing nature of work requires new leadership strategies to motivate and inspire people. Identity leadership is a skillset that can significantly improve leadership effectiveness in a modern workplace. It provides leaders with the behavioural and psychological skills to effectively connect, engage and inspire followers working with shorter time horizons, flexible work contracts and in virtual environments. And not only does identity leadership promote behaviours that benefit the welfare of an organisation, it also creates a more resilient workforce, able to deal more effectively with change owing to enhanced wellbeing, a sense of purpose and common direction.

This article can be found in Briefing’s May magazine: Power is learned

Digital's dividends
blog

DIGITAL’S DIVIDENDS


James Gilding
Mitie Document Management
Pitches up
blog

PITCHES UP


Marc Anderson
lead solicitor, Royal London Group Legal