UP academics share expertise on ‘the importance of trying on a leader identity’ in a world facing a leadership crisis

Posted on November 20, 2020

What does your leader identity look like? To answer this question, the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS) at the University of Pretoria (UP) hosted, as part of its EMS Talk series, a webinar on the topic under the theme ‘The Importance of Trying on a Leader Identity’.

Giving presentations and sharing ideas on the topic were academics and experts from UP’s Department of Human Resource Management. In his opening remarks, Professor Alewyn Nel, head of the department, explained that the webinar is a platform for his department to share knowledge resulting from the extensive work done in the field.

“Our department does amazing work researching contemporary issues within the fields of industrial psychology, human resources management and employee relations, especially pertaining to cross-cultural assessments, gender and diversity management, social and professional identity, psychological ownership, subjective success, work-life balance and much more. Our department also boasts six NRF-rated researchers and we are housed within the EMS Faculty,” he said.

Professor Jenny Hoobler, Doctoral Programmes Manager, said a leader identity asks a question of the individual: ‘Am I a leader?’

Dr Daphne Pillay,  Dr Anne Crawford and Professor Jenny Hoobler during the webinar.

“The question asks: ‘Is leader a part of my identity and is it a part of my self-concept?’ We know that there is a leadership crisis across the world, where we have too few good leaders. And what’s more, too few women and people of colour in leadership roles. For example, women occupy just one in four leadership roles and positions in organisations globally. Closer to home, just 19% of the leaders of the JSE listed Top 100 firms are black men and just 13% of those directors are black women. While we acknowledge the many external systemic factors to reaching a leadership position, we also want to share that self-concept and, particularly, identity, plays a part,” Prof Hoobler said.

Continuing with this line of thought, Dr Anne Crawford, senior lecturer in the department, said two additional questions: ‘Who am I as a leader?’ and ‘Who could I be as a leader?’ assist in helping pass the first hurdle on the road to leadership.

“The first question, refers to leader identity. The meanings you attach to yourself as a leader as well as the styles, repertoires and behaviours you use to perform leadership. The second question refers to the possible ways of performing leadership. Built into both these questions is that there are no right or wrong ways of performing leadership. But that what is important is to find a fit between who you are as a leader, your personal identity and the context within which you are performing your leadership role,” Dr Crawford said.

To complete the trilogy, lecturer Dr Daphne Pillay added that mindfulness is an important aspect of trying on the identity of a leader.

“When you are trying on the identity of a leader you will find that you go through several developmental experiences and these experiences are particularly important because they provide you with an opportunity to gain greater insight into yourself, and to determine whether being a leader will suit you. What is important to remember is that the extent to which these experiences provide you with valuable information is very much dependent on how you approach the experience. In this sense, you could have two individuals that go through the exact same experience, but walk away with fundamentally different lessons. In order for these experiences to provide maximum value for you, you need to ensure that you approach the experiences mindfully,” Dr Pillay said.

WATCH: The Importance of Trying on a Leader Identity

- Author Masego Panyane

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