Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
09 Jul 2010

Are you holding the cards to effective leadership?

09 Jul 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Identity shield

To a greater or lesser degree, we are what we experience, and what we seek. People often comment on how they didnt realise how great an influence their childhood relationships have had upon their life today.

Many of the answers we seek, or have been seeking lie within our identity shield. Its like a blueprint of who we are and who we seek to become, and so most people find the identity shield to be a very simple, but highly effective way of not only understanding some more about their true identity and the journey that they're on, but also as a great way to communicate it to others. 

Perspectives of leadership

An effective leader must first seek to understand him/herself before seeking to understand others. We can also use the identity shield as a very powerful way of getting to know others. Before we explore how to do this, please give some thought to the following simple, but very important question:

How would you define leadership?

Take no more than five minutes to scribble as many responses as possible to this question. There are many answers, and scholars have wrestled with this one for years. For example, I enclose some definitions below taken from Princeton Universitys wordnet database:

  • the activity of leading; 'his leadership inspired the team' 
  • the body of people who lead a group; 'the national leadership adopted his plan'
  • the status of a leader; 'they Challenged his leadership of the union'
  • the ability to lead; 'he believed that leadership can be taught'

Leading hearts and minds

Its probably easier to see the simplest answer by looking at what leadership is about and its intent. Fundamentally leadership is about leading hearts and minds. Therefore, to lead hearts and minds effectively, you must first seek to understand them.

One of the most effective tools I have come across in doing this is the identity shield. Calling together your people and sharing your identity shield with them will directly impact on the dynamics of your leadership relationship with your team, and their level of respect, loyalty and commitment as a result. Managed correctly, I guarantee it will work.

Team discovery

I have used this tool with hundreds of existing, new and prospective leaders in all kinds of environments, and all with incredible effect. I never cease to be amazed at the journeys that have shaped people, and how much we're able to learn from those journeys.

Within one large IT organisation, two ladies who had known each other and worked together for 27 years questioned the need to listen to each other's identity shields. On completing the process, both were absolutely staggered about what they learnt about the other. The experience changed their relationship as a result.

In another organisation, in fact a large defence contractor, we discovered that over 60% of the staff over the age of forty wished to move to Spain when they retired.

Strengthening client relationships

I remember that in the four weeks between module 1 and module 2 of a driving performance through effective leadership programme with a client, a newly appointed leader coming back and describing how he'd won significant new business with a client he thought he was about to lose as a direct result of using the components of this simple, but powerful tool. 

He was describing this appalling client relationship that they had inherited, where he genuinely believed the client would be going elsewhere for business within a matter or weeks. With nothing to lose, he chose to sit both sides down and use the identity shield activity as a way to press the reset button and get to know each other properly. They still have a great relationship and continue to increase the volume of business they do together.

Building trust

So often I find myself incredibly humbled by not only what people have experienced, but more importantly how they chose to deal with certain circumstances and situations. We all too often make our own assumptions about people, and why they are as they are. Within a work capacity, we make little allowance for what has shaped who they really are, because we just dont know. 

Using the identity shield this way, surfaces the issues, Challenges and opportunities experienced en-route in a safe space and fundamentally builds a whole new level of trust, rarely seen or experienced before. 

Just at a basic level, its quite incredible just how much we have in common with other people, in whatever capacity they may be, whether thats a love of sailing, children, travelling or collecting antiques, or the suffering as a result of losing someone close.

Driving a collective agenda

Ill never forget being invited into a consortium seeking to win a large MOD bid (approx ??20 billion), and do some blood-letting as they just were not functioning well as a team, and had a few people at complete odds with the consortium goals, or so it appeared. In particular, there was one particular individual that the group as a whole felt was not on-board with the project, was arrogant and always left early.

I remember starting off with the identity shield activity as a way of creating that initial bedrock of knowledge and trust. This seemed particularly appropriate as there were four organisations, each vying to own and drive the collective agenda.

The top team was made up of only twelve people, and so we had allocated just a couple of hours for them to each present their identity shield, i.e. ten minutes each.

Five hours later, we were still going strong. It transpires that much needed to be said, and as much for the benefit of each individual, as well as the group. 

As this was a consortium project, the group was made up of quite maverick personalities, who had all at some time or another in their career not just clipped a brick wall, but crunched through it at an incredible speed, and subsequently been assigned to 'special projects' as a corporate 'thank you'. It soon became clear that for all of them, they really needed this project to work to regain credibility and a foothold in the organisation, and that competing against each other was just counter productive.

Learn from the past but let it go

Its clear though that many of us are still carrying around emotional baggage from our pasts, and despite knowing intellectually that time has moved on, we rarely succeed in achieving this emotionally.

This baggage can often be one of the great obstacles or constraints to our achieving our full quota of performance.