Have you ever been so identified with a role that you lose touch with who you are apart from it? Playing an important leadership role can occupy so much of our lives that we forget that our True Self is so much deeper and more multi-faceted than the role(s) we play.
In this episode I talk about the importance of having a strong and integrated core identity so that you lead out of who you are instead of allowing your leadership role to limit your identity. I also talk about the implications of not being able to distinguish between our identity and our role and the need for people in our lives who know us in our fullness and not just for the leadership role we play.
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00:25 - Introduction
02:04 - Role vs. Core Identity
04:26 - What Happens when we Let our Leadership Roles Define us?
10:40 - Examples of Being Fused to our Roles
12:36 - How do I see Myself Beyond My Persona?
22:20 - Who Can See Beyond Our Personas?
27:20 - Toxic Shame
29:08 - Engaging Our Core
32:09 - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act
34:03 - Conclusion
- As you listened to this episode, what struck you?
- What resonated with you?
- Is there a leadership role that you play or are preparing to play that you may be over-identifying with?
- Can only think of yourself in terms of that role?
- On a piece of paper, list down five reasons or observations that you make that makes you think you may be over identifying with your leadership role.
- What makes you think that? See if you can enumerate a few points.
- Talk to someone who knows you well, whom you trust and who has a more holistic picture of who you are beyond that role that you have to play as a leader.
- Ask them if they have observed any signs that you could be over-identifying with your leadership role and losing touch with your core identity.
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EPISODE 57 | LEADERSHIP: ROLE VS. CORE IDENTITY
Whatever we do or fail to do as leaders – whatever successes or failures we may experience in our role as leaders; these are things that we can and need to absorb and integrate into a larger whole – the larger whole of our lives, our stories, ourselves; these things can inform our growth as persons.
Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host, Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax, and listen on to Becoming Me.
Hello again, dear listeners. Okay, today we're going to be talking about what happens when we lose our sense of identity to the roles that we play. And especially in the leadership roles that we play. Okay, so, if you listened to my earlier two episodes, you know that I define leadership here quite broadly.
I mean, there are official positions of leadership. Like, you know, if you're appointed to lead a team, to lead a company, right? But in many, many other ways, we also lead – we are in relationships of leadership to the people in our lives. And leadership in these less formal, official capacities is really something that can be fluid.
Right, it's – we don't always have to be the leader. We also need to know how to be led, how to follow, how to work with the other people in our lives sometimes, right? To recognize when we need to step up, maybe into a leadership role, and when we need to step down.
[00:02:04] ROLE VS CORE IDENTITY
Now, in these less official capacities of leadership, you may think that maybe it's not so tempting to think of our identities in terms of the role that we play, right? But sometimes that happens as well. Okay, before I get too far ahead of myself, let me talk a bit more about what I mean about role and identity. Okay, so, if you've been following the Becoming Me podcast, you know that I often have this term that I use: the core identity – or our core identity, or our true self, right?
A sense of who I am in essence, apart from how people see me, apart from how useful I may be to other people or functions that I serve. Because my identity cannot just be the sum of the roles that I play or the sum of the usefulness or the utility that I serve to others or to society.
But what can often happen is that we get so caught up in a role that we need to play – in our families or at work or in our communities or in society – because that is maybe how we are rewarded when we play that role or when we play that role well. That over time, we may confuse that role or how we need to play that role, how we are expected to play that role.
So, this is linked to the leadership script episode – the episode before this one, where I talked about how we all have some kind of operating script about how I'm supposed to behave or how I'm supposed to act and fulfil my position or my role as a leader. Right, and that script really quite literally is like, you know – it paints a role that we need to play.
And if we are not fully aware that our full self is more than that role that we need to play, over time, we can over identify with that role and that persona – that role that we play can overtake our sense of who we are. And then we see ourselves purely through that very singular and narrow lens of this function that we play, this role that we play, as a leader.
[00:04:26] WHAT HAPPNS WHEN WE LET OUR LEADERSHIP ROLES DEFINE US?
Okay, so, what happens when that happens – when we let ourselves then be defined by the leadership roles that we take on? We can become confused and lost. Right, this is a very common occurrence when we don't yet have a strong and integrated core identity about who we are. Because we are meant to lead from our core identity – from our core self, right.
Leadership is a role that we play from that core sense of who I am. And so how I act, how I behave, how I make decisions as a leader, it's meant to be – it will be unique if it's authentic, because it's going to be coming out of this strong, integrated core self. Right, but I think most of us who are on this journey of integration and wholeness – we all struggle with a weak or a fragmented sense of this core identity.
And we often look outside of ourselves to see how other people see us and to try and have a sense of who I am through the eyes of others. Now, if we lead from this kind of situation, then we will be often dependent on the external cues and signs that other people give us. We only see ourselves through the objective cues.
Okay, by objective here, I don't mean necessarily true. I mean, not from the perspective of me as a subject. Right, so, a fuller sense of everything – of who I am, would require both the subjective – and in this sense, I mean the authentic. Authenticity is subjective because it's based on this unique subject that I am.
Right, but I also need to take in the data and the information and the feedback loop that comes from outside of myself. Right, but neither one of those alone can give me a deep sense, a fuller sense of where I am on my journey, what I need to develop and who I am. We need both, in harmony. So, being a leader is a role that we play in relation to others.
And it can be a very important role, but it is not who we are. There is a distinction between that role that we play in our core identity. And without being conscious of it, I think a lot of us can confuse the two. This tendency to blur our role with identity is especially high when we are more vulnerable, when our wounds maybe are acting up, right?
Because I think all of us are in progress. Even those of us who have become more self-aware that our core is wounded, and you know, is in the process of healing. There are better days and there are worse days, right? There are times when we feel more anchored and more solid, you know – we feel we can differentiate between the truth or who we are, and maybe the failures that we are experiencing in our roles. It's difficult, but there are days when we can be more anchored and aware of the distinction. But there are days even when our minds remember –
– right, that there's this difference. The rest of us, you know, can't live that truth; the reality that our body is kind of reflecting back to us is, "oh man, I'm not doing a good job. I'm a failure". Or I see maybe that person is unhappy with me because I didn't communicate properly.
And now that person misunderstands me, or maybe I came across as being too arrogant or pushy, you know – those times, there are days when our self-talk is just looping that kind of negative and self-defeating messages that make us more and more insecure. And even in those days, sometimes, we still need to play that role as a leader.
So, we can expect, on these kinds of days, when we are acting more out of our insecurity, we will have – I would say maybe, a more fragile sense of who we are. We would be more easily triggered, more fearful. And I think we can give ourselves – offer ourselves some compassion for that.
Okay, to be aware that on this journey, there are always going to be times when we feel our wounds more. Or we feel more exposed, and we feel less secure – and that's okay. And that's okay. Sometimes, these can be the invitation, you know – the prompts for us to gain a little bit of distance, to enter into a bit of silence and solitude and reconnect with the deeper part of ourselves.
So, when we act out of the wounded core, then it's often going to feel like I'm not sure who I am apart from the roles that I play. My roles then define me. The problem is that the roles that I play in my life are meant to be flexible and transient. Even if I have an important leadership role to play, that is not the sum of who I am.
And if I can't decouple this leadership role that I play from the rest of me – from my deepest identity, I would miss out on so much more. I wouldn't know how to let my hair down. I won't know just how to be, you know, a friend, maybe a mother, a spouse. I wouldn't know just how to even be human, right?
Just one human out of the billions in the universe. How then, can I be truly myself, right? I wouldn't be. So, that's a problem when the roles that I take or one role – maybe more than others – become very fixed and static. Each of us has multiple roles that we play in our lives, through the different seasons of life, and sometimes even just over the course of one day.
If we let just one of our roles define us, what happens? We become identified with that persona, right – that role that we need to play, rather than being a multifaceted, adaptable, in-progress, human being – which actually in reality, that's what we are.
[00:10:40] EXAMPLES OF BEING FUSED TO OUR ROLES
Now, let me give you a couple of examples of what that could look like when someone gets so fused to the role that they play, or one role that they play, that they can't switch out of it. So, for example, the teacher who cannot get, get out of teacher-mode when his or her child needs him or her to just be the parent, right?
I happen to know several people in my life where they are excellent teachers – the students love them. But, oh my gosh – their children get so frustrated because they get the teacher-parent instead of just the parent, right. A parent can't just teach all the time. That's one component maybe, in being a parent. But that shouldn't define the parent's relationship with a child.
Right, so, that's one example. Or maybe the CEO who comes home, right – and relates to his spouse as if she's his employee. And he's so used to just calling the shots, you know, giving just the big picture thing, then having so many people to execute it for him, that when he comes home, he operates in the same way.
He can't just take off that persona and revert to just being himself, right? Being that spouse that is a partner; an equal partner with his spouse and to share in the rest of life, or another example could be, you know, a stay-at-home mother who has dedicated her whole life to nurturing and bringing up the children – taking care of everything at home.
And that has become so much a part of this person's identity, that when the children grow up, she feels the loss of her value and she feels that she's lost her identity. She may try to cling on to that old dynamic with the children, and then that would harm them. And, you know, it would backfire on her. And I think we all know examples of such kind of cases, right.
[00:12:36] HOW DO I SEE MYSELF BEYOND MY PERSONA?
It's really hard sometimes for those who have outlived the role that they served for so long – that role is no longer necessary the same way. But because they have no other identity apart from that role, they hang onto it and they refuse to let it go – even when it is no longer appropriate. So, the deeper question here is how do you see yourself beyond the roles that you play beyond the leadership role that you play, right.
Whatever it is that is in your life – maybe you have more than one leadership role. Is there a core self that is stable, that is constant, that anchors you so that the roles that you play are kind of like clothes that, you know, you can put on and you can take off easily. But you are always aware that the clothes are not you, right?
You are you. Right so, are you living out of the core identity or are you trying to create an identity for yourself out of the role that you're playing? There's no judgment. If you find that you are trying to create an identity out of the role that you're playing, there really is no judgment because that is my own story for the longest time.
And I know exactly how that can happen – especially when we don't yet have a sense of who we are, what this true self is. And we are given a role to play for which we are congratulated – maybe, you know, applauded, affirmed. It's easy then, to decide, "oh, then this is who I shall be". This role that I play is who I shall be because it gives me the attention or the affirmation that I saw crave and yearn for.
So, a little personal sharing here. Not that long ago, I started unpacking a period of my life which I have shared before in some of the earlier episodes – I kind of alluded to before, that my time as a student, especially in between the ages of 11 to 16, was a very defining time because I was thrust into a public role in my school as a student leader – it wasn't by choice.
It was an appointment and actually, the truth is that I was quite different before and after I was appointed a student leader. And in my earlier years as an adult, I think, I saw it as a positive thing. I saw how an appointment to leadership made me more responsible; I think made – kind of like, pushed me or nudged me to maybe be more mature, less playful, to learn to see like the bigger picture and that, you know, there are things beyond just myself that matter.
Because I'm responsible for other people that I'm leading. I'm responsible for certain functions in the school, in relationship with the adult staff – the teachers, including the principal, and as well as the students. I became so, aware of what is expected of me as the head prefect – which was the role that I occupied when I was 12.
And again, when I was 16 in secondary school. That everything – almost everything I did was with this awareness also, of this responsibility that I needed to play. And in particular, I suppose, as a student leader, the responsibility of needing to be a role model, to set a good example – and you know, whether I was in school or not. Because, you know, especially – even if you're not in school, you kind of represent the school, right?
Especially as a kind of like the head prefect or figurehead. So, I didn't even realize just how much of my identity had been overtaken by this role that I learned to play. The one who had to take initiative, you know, or knows how to take initiative, who foresees problems before they happen and take steps to avert those problems, who is able to provide solutions whenever there is a problem.
I don't know how or where I took that script from, you know – that somehow, I need to be that problem solver. Or I need to find people to, you know, solve the problem – but somehow, I'm responsible. I'm always responsible because you know, the buck stops at me kind-of-a-thing. Right, and I took that to every aspect of my life.
And as you can see, there's a close relationship between, I suppose, being head prefect and needing to be a good example and role model to also being the eldest sibling, to being, you know, the eldest grandchild to being – well, you know, the Catholic girl that takes her faith seriously and feels that every aspect of her life, of her behaviour, of her thinking and even speech – at least publicly, at least publicly, right – should reflect this shining moral example.
And I was so sincere about it. And I have so much empathy now for my younger self because I didn't know how else to be. I mean, all these things were – they're not bad things. And I think a lot of the adults in my life were very pleased with me. They trusted me. My friends' parents trusted me because they felt like, you know, this girl is always so responsible – she knows what to do.
She's very matured in her thinking, right. And while that may be true, actually, underneath that persona, I didn't really know who I was and I felt so lonely and insecure about my value because I felt like unless I was this person that they all wanted me to be, they wanted to see, I wouldn't be lovable.
I wouldn't deserve – well, to be affirmed, and to be valued, right? So, I had no sense of my core identity. I became that role that I played so much that you know, that particular role of head prefect morphed into different versions when I'm no longer that head prefect in the school. So, whether it's as the Catholic exampler leader, you know, or as the elder sibling or family member that understood the family culture, knew what was expected of her, knew exactly what to do –
– I just slipped automatically and seamlessly into that role. And it wasn't until later on when I started really asking, you know, who am I? I realized I don't really know who I am, except for how others see me, that there began to be that separation between my role or my persona – that I always constantly saw myself playing in life and who I really am.
And I found that there was actually a huge, huge difference. You know, I mean, there were some similarities I was capable of playing that role, you know – that role of being responsible, taking initiative when I needed to. But there was so many other aspects of myself that is not captured by that persona, you know.
And it was kind of funny that recently, my husband, Henry, was just telling me, “You know, Ann, actually you're anything, but" – I mean, maybe it's a bit of an extreme point he was trying to make, but he's saying "you're anything, but that head prefect persona. So, if you were, we wouldn't be together". Right, so, he saw something else in me that drew him.
It wasn't that head prefect-self. And that's so ironic because when I was growing up – and at such an impressionable age, right, between the ages of 11 and 16 – there was so much that period of time is about discovering who I am, learning who I am. And at that time, the person that felt I needed to be in order to have an identity, to matter to people, was always "uber" responsible, capable, serious.
Because you know what, for me, somehow being responsible was being serious and not being playful and taking things too lightly, you know, being organized – this person. And I thought that that's who I needed to be in order to be loved. But as it turns out, the person who I think, loves me the most unconditionally, that I've experienced in my life, was the one who saw beyond that role.
And saw someone quite different from that persona and loved that – or loved me as a whole person. Right, so that's my experience of getting enmeshed with the role that I had to play. And in my healing journey, I needed the help of multiple people who could see me past that persona or that role.
[00:22:20] WHO CAN SEE BEYOND OUR PERSONAS?
Right, so, apart from my husband, you know – not necessarily just friends – but the spiritual directors that have journeyed with me, the counsellors and therapists that have also been part of my journey. People who could help me open up and explore parts of myself that I didn't know were there.
People with whom I felt safe enough to be vulnerable, who had no expectation of me – that at least I felt there was no expectation of me – to be a certain way, so that I can explore and find out, and have mirrors in my life, right – as I was discovering what am I really like.
So, when we are leaders, I think it's very important for us to ask this question; who can see us beyond that role that we play? Who can see us for who we are in our full personhood? And who can accept us, and who will remind us of the person that we are? Who are the people in our lives that are not intimidated or awed by our role, and who love us enough to call us out when we need it?
Now, these people – these are the ones who are essential support resources, who will keep us grounded in our core identity. Okay, they are going to be the ones that we need to lean on to continue to get more integrated. And to remember we are not the role that we play, even if everybody else – if we're a public figure – even if everybody else just sees us through that role that we play, that is not who I am.
Right, so, these people who see us fully for who we are, they may not be the ones who are able to advise us or give us good feedback about how we lead in our specific leadership roles. It may not be within their areas of expertise or experience, but that's not what we need them for.
There can be other people that maybe we can get advice about leading and all that kind of thing. But these people, who see us for who we really are in a full personhood, they remind us of our core identity. And by doing that, they are the ones who can help us become more authentic and integrated as leaders.
Right, maybe if we're lucky within this group of people, there's a subset of maybe a couple of people who also have some wisdom and experience who can help us to see how we can lead authentically and improve as leaders. But the most important thing is that they're not going to lean so much on emphasizing the skills or the actions that we need to take – but they're going to remind us to be grounded in our true self.
On the flip side, we also need to recognize who the people are for whom we are the role that we play to them and who cannot see us beyond that role. If we are leaders in some, to some extent, there will be people like that. And it's not their fault. Okay, I mean, it's not like a bad thing.
It's just a reality. It's a reality that if we're in leadership, there will be people who want us and even need us to be a particular kind of leader that they need. And they're going to see us through that lens. So, their feedback is also important, but their perspective is necessarily limited by, you know – through that role that they need us to play for them.
So, we need to remember not to let feedback that comes from this group of people – who can only really see us through the role that we play – become a mirror to us about our full identity. Okay, so, if we experience failure in our role as a leader, or we are emotionally triggered by a situation, as we execute this role, we can recall that there is more to us and to our story than this one incident or this one failure – no matter how big it may be. Because this role that we play – it doesn't, it doesn't encapsulate the whole of us and who we are.
Okay, whatever we do or fail to do as leaders, whatever successes or failures we may experience in our role as leaders – these are things that we can and need to absorb and integrate into a larger whole; the larger whole of our lives, our stories, ourselves – these things can inform our growth as persons.
So, we need to be able to integrate the feedback from the people who can only see us in our capacity as leaders. We need to integrate this kind of feedback into the larger whole of our core identity. And because if we cannot do that – if we're not able to do that, we're just going to get sucked in to let's say, the criticisms, or even the affirmations – we can really let it get to our heads.
If we succeed in our role, as a leader, we begin to – we can become, you know, very arrogant or very proud. Because we forget that there all these parts of us that still need work – there are all these other parts of us that are fragmented and broken and insecure. It becomes a full sense of, you know, bravado, you know? And sooner or later that balloon will burst.
[00:27:20] TOXIC SHAME
Right, if we don't have a grasp on the bigger picture, then what can also often happen is that when we experience failure in our roles as leaders, we become gripped by toxic shame. So, not just shame, in general – of course there is that. But healthy shame is a recognition that we have made a mistake and we feel some shame that we need to correct that mistake, you know, I've done something wrong, or I've done something badly.
And of course, I'll feel lousy about that. You know, there's some shame. But it does not threaten our sense of value as a person. That is, if we have a integrated core identity, we know that we're much bigger than this thing that we've done badly or this failure, right. But when we can only see ourselves through the role that we play – failure, failure, that happens when we are in that role –
– it can threaten our whole existential sense of who we are. Okay, so, toxic shame is when that shame envelopes our whole entire identity. We can no longer see ourselves as a valuable human being who made a mistake. But it's so much more than that mistake – when we are gripped by toxic shame, we find ourselves thinking that we are our failure and we have no idea who we are anymore because that persona that has become our full identity is, you know, is no longer giving us what we need, which is maybe the affirmation and recognition and love that we crave.
When we are filled in that capacity, maybe now that persona is, you know, inviting ridicule – makes us feel humiliated and we have nothing else to rest on. We have become reduced to a persona, to a role. And that is why the interior journey is so, so important for us. And even more so when we have leadership roles to play; especially if there are public leadership roles that we need to play, right?
[00:29:08] ENGAGING OUR CORE
If we don't make that journey; that interior journey into greater integration and wholeness, we will easily lose touch with who we are and become enmeshed with the roles that we. So, in episode four, Living from the Inside Out, I used also, the analogy of engaging our core muscles, when we're doing Pilates.
Right, so, Pilates is an exercise. Those of you who have done Pilates, or maybe even some other kinds of exercise that need to engage your core – you would know there's a huge difference when we do the same movement, right – the same movement in the exercise with or without engaging our core muscles. I remember when I was taking Pilates classes back when I was in my undergrad days.
And, you know, we'd be doing the exercises that instructors telling us, and she would come around and kind of just do like these small, minor corrections. And she would put her hand, you know, right around like my – you know, the core area, the core muscles, and to tap us, to remind us to engage, right – how to engage.
And once we engage the core muscles, the same movement, the same exercises feel so different. Actually, usually it feels a lot harder, right? Because, but then now we're working the right muscles. But apart from it being harder, when we have engaged our core muscles, the same action actually happens with a lot more grace and a lot more power.
The body is more integrated, we are less wobbly when we execute those exercises. Right, so, there's greater stability and strength when we engage the core. Now, that's true in Pilates and that's true in the interior life. When we are able to know how to engage our core – our core identity – and especially when we do the work to strengthen our core identity, so, we do have that stable anchor in the essence of ourselves.
We live life with greater grace, right? We exercise leadership also with greater grace. Which means that, whether we're doing well or not so well, there is grace. There is stability because we have a strong core identity. And we will also find that we will have greater natural authority because we are grounded in something that is enduring – more enduring.
And more stable than the role we play. We can be more present to the people and to the situations that we need to exercise this role in, because our sense of self does not rest on if their response. So, we can actually be not just more authentic, we can actually be more grounded as leaders. And that's always a good thing, not just for ourselves, but for the people that we lead.
And even when we stumble, when we know how to engage our core, we can more easily get back on our feet because we have a clear sense of where our centre of gravity is. And the centre of gravity is in us. It's in our core. It's not outside of us. It does not lie in the opinions of others. It does not lie in the report cards that we able to show in the role that we have to play.
[00:32:09] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT.
Okay, so, here are the praxis prompts for today. One: Listen – as you listened to this episode, what struck you? What resonated with you?
Two: Ponder – is there a leadership role that you play or are preparing to play that you may be over-identifying with? Over-identifying with so much so that you can only think of yourself in terms of that role?
Three: Act – on a piece of paper, list down five reasons or observations that you make that makes you think you may be over identifying with your leadership role. Okay, so, kind of like think through why – if you sense that you might be over identifying with a leadership role, what makes you think that? You know, see if you can enumerate a few points.
If you have a hard time doing this exercise yourself, sometimes it's hard because we can't see ourselves that well – talk to someone who knows you well, whom you trust and who has a more holistic picture of who you are beyond that role that you have to play as a leader. Ask them if they have observed any signs that you could be over-identifying with your leadership role and losing touch with your core identity.
That's it for this episode until the next time, I hope that you remember that you are so much more than the leadership role that you play and the leader that others need you to be. May you always be in touch with who you truly are, at your core.
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction. No matter how small those steps might be, and no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin.
The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingmepodcast.com and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!