“The topic of my dissertation was identity, so when I was asked to share a few words about my experience from the course, there was no way I wasn’t going to base it on identity.” Oliver Clare, graduate of the MSc Strategy, Change and Leadership programme at the University of Bristol.
What is identity?
This is something I had not considered before attending the course. But when I started looking into identity for an essay, I was drawn in. Simply put, identity is the boundary between two internal stories; how we perceive ourselves and how we believe we relate to others. Understanding relationships between people is a big part of leading a team or managing colleagues, friends and family. Identity is, therefore, a key concern in the subject of leadership.
You could imagine identity as thousands of tiny borders, each one between you and another thing. That other thing could be a person, an organisation, group or club, or even a nation or a gender. When one or more of those borders shifts in a significant way, such as when an event causes you to re-evaluate a friendship, this is an identity transition. Identity transitions are a core concept when it comes to understanding organisational change and how change affects people.
Why am I telling you this?
When I first attended this course, I felt highly underqualified. I manage a tiny team in a small UK-based tech company. What could I possibly have to offer to a room full of corporate leaders? What I felt was impostor syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is a great example of an identity problem. I stumbled upon a recent post by the head of a charity I’ve worked in partnership with for several years, Jo Youle. I’ve met Jo at various conferences and other events. Never have I considered Jo to be an impostor! But in her post, Jo prescribes several tips for impostor syndrome. In terms of identity, Jo’s internal perception of who she was didn’t match up with her view of what she was doing. Changing perceptions takes mental effort, acceptance and, in Jo’s case, changing shoes. It involves an identity transition.
I initially felt like an impostor on this course. But through participation in the taught units and through the successful completion of assignments, I began to see myself differently. I still manage a tiny team for a small UK-based tech company, but various borders have shifted in my perception of myself and others. The result is that I feel less pressure to prove myself amongst other leaders, which has led to much more relaxing interactions.
I also now see identity talk everywhere, much like Neo sees the matrix. I’m afraid I cannot guarantee this effect from the course, and I suspect it will wear off given time.
This course was hard work and is not for everyone. But I found a new part of myself here, and feel it was absolutely worth it.
If you would like to know more about identity, I recommend reading “Managing Transitions” by William Bridges.