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Last week my eldest son Mateo had his 18th Birthday. I’m still having trouble believing it.

I know it’s cliché, but the time has flown by.  I remember so vividly holding him in my arms as a newborn. Trying to keep up with him during his active toddler years. And of course dealing with him as a teenager.

Now, all of a sudden, he’s become an adult.

An 18th birthday is a milestone for many reasons. I did some surfing on the web and found out that now my son can:

  • Vote
  • Be convicted and go to adult jail should he commit a crime
  • Marry
  • Buy a home and take out a mortgage
  • Make his own decisions around his personal finances and health.

Wow.  That’s all some pretty heavy duty adult stuff.

While there are clear signs that society now views Mateo as an adult, the question that I immediately considered is how does he see himself? Does he feel he’s an adult now? Does this happen the minute one turns 18?

I suspect he will go through a psychological transition over time and a day will come when he will realize, “I’m an adult now.” When he reaches that moment, his identity will change forever.

As I think about all this, I find there is a connection with my son turning 18 and becoming an adult, with my work as a leadership advisor.

As leaders, we also go through a psychological transition when we assume leadership roles. Yet, there isn’t a lot of attention paid to this critical stage in our development as leaders.

Every time one takes on a significant leadership role, it marks a turning point. Think back to the first time you became a front-line manager. Or when you entered the middle-management or executive ranks. I describe these as leadership turning points in my bookThe Leadership Contract.

At each turning point, it is important to pause and reflect on your identity as a leader as each of these moments brings new expectations, demands and pressures. That means as a leader, you have to change with each new task or assignment.

Unfortunately, I find few leaders really do pause and reflect at these critical junctures.  Every time they are promoted or moved laterally, they just keep carrying on as if nothing has changed. Without a change in perspective, these leaders quickly find that, despite past successes, they no longer know how to succeed in a new role.

For example, I continue to be surprised when I meet senior level leaders who still identify more with their technical area of expertise than with their leadership role. Their work identities are anchored to their professions: lawyer, engineer, and accountant, whatever. They don’t define themselves through the executive leadership role they actually possess.

If you are in a leadership role, you need to develop a personal identify as a leader. If you’ve been asked to lead, but you’re thinking like an engineer or an accountant, you will fail your team and organization.

For many, it’s a gradual process. You don’t come to this the moment suddenly just because you get a new title or a corner office. This is a process that evolves gradually over time, culminating in a moment when you come to see yourself differently. It’s a mind shift where you see your professional role in a new light.

This can only happen if you engage in a little self-analysis. So take some time to reflect and consider your personal identity as a leader.

Do you define yourself through your leadership role? Or something else entirely different? If you haven’t come to that moment when you think of yourself as a leader first, consider the impact this may have on the people around you.

This week’s Gut Check: Do you define yourself as a true leader?

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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