The Line - Self Leadership - Development

You’re A Tool

Using Identity Based Leadership Development practices to increase your leadership impact

by Abbey Johnston | April 2024

I was convinced that I had come up with the best tagline for our company.  “You’re a tool.” That’s it.  That’s the tagline. Short and sweet. What could go wrong with a tagline like that? 

It was vetoed. My team was confident that people could take it the wrong way. They are probably not wrong. But here is my chance to share why I thought this tagline was a really good idea. 😉

When it comes to leadership development – YOU are your greatest leadership asset. You are, in fact, your greatest leadership tool. We cannot lead from any other place than ourselves. And the better we understand ourselves, the better we are at wielding our leadership impact in a more meaningful and effective way.

We are not neutral beings who walk around the world simply making unbiased and objective decisions based on facts. Like white light, that is actually a combination of all the colors on the color spectrum, we too have many factors of our identity, all of which color our perspective and thus impact our decisions.


Behavior Starts as a Thought or Feeling

Each of us are a beautiful combination of many factors that influence our choices and ultimately our behavior. Our behavior is the thing others experience. But behavior doesn’t start as behavior – it usually starts as a conscious or unconscious thought or feeling.

In their book “Mastering Leadership,” Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams, draw on their collective 60 years of experience in Leadership Development, blending it with original research and a comprehensive review of existing studies to present a framework for development. They convincingly demonstrate the undeniable connection between leadership development and exceptional business outcomes.

Anderson and Adams write:

“Identity is at the core of our IOS system [internal operating system] – the part that harbors our sense of self, organizes how we understand ourselves and how we establish our sense of worth, esteem, personal value, and security. Identity drives how we take up our role in situations and how we deploy ourselves moment to moment. The structure of identity is responsible for mediating much of our thinking and behavior.  Therefore we generate patterns of results consistent with how our identity is structured.  When identity evolves, so do we, as do the results we get in the world.” 

Consequently, if we want to be able to make the best kind of impact we can, we have to know what’s driving our choices. Or as Anderson and Adams say, we have to understand what makes up our IOS.  So, back to all these different elements that color our perspective. I will name a few: life experiences, family of origin dynamics, faith and/or religion, values or anti-values, strengths, gender, race, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. These different parts of our identity are usually influencing us at a subconscious and automatic level. This makes it hard, at first, to see what is truly at play in the choices we are making. However, this is why awareness is a non-negotiable element of leadership development.  

We can’t change what we can’t see. Seeing leads us to new possibilities. 

Let’s give an example. 

And since I’m writing this – it feels only fair that I put myself on blast. One of the parts of my identity is that I have dyslexia. It wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my early twenties.  A way that I learned to cope with it is that I worked hard – real hard.  I always felt an internal hustle to try and disguise an inner belief that I was not smart. It bled into a belief that I, in my natural state, was broken and I always needed to compensate for that. I created such high standards for myself.  This wasn’t just for my school aged self.  This turned from a coping mechanism into a pattern of behavior. And I should add that it did help me cope. It did help drive me to achieve things I might not have, however, it worked until it didn’t.  

These unrealistic expectations for myself didn’t just stay focused on me. These would drive me to also hold unrealistic expectations for those around me.  And I would do it without even realizing it. It was happening outside my awareness.  It resulted in people around me feeling like they weren’t measuring up and discouraged. It left me feeling resentful…which is not a good look. Being resentful and bitter zaps so much energy. So. Much. 

Once I could see this pattern and how it was hijacking my effectiveness, I could start to do something about it. This doesn’t mean that that impulse is gone – it’s not.  The win is in seeing this pattern and being able to make a shift. I can choose a different way of showing up. Also, as I began to explore this pattern in me, I noticed – the more compassionate and curious I could be with myself – the more compassionate and curious I could be with others.  

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”


Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost


A Place of Greater Impact

When we are able to see these different parts of ourselves and how they might impact our choices, we are able to move into a place of greater impact.  We are no longer being limited by our subconscious patterns. We get to choose how we would like to show up. 

Get curious about what might be informing your leadership choices with this lifeline activity from David Novak.

This identity based approach to leadership is the bedrock of our work. It is the hard work of leadership. It is the stuff that we often wish we could unsee. But this work also includes those brilliant bits like our values, our purpose and our strengths.  Seeing these more clearly also helps us utilize them on purpose with greater impact. 


All this to say “You are a tool.” And an important one.

Ready to Fast Track Your Growth? 

At AGC we recently launched individual Coaching Tracks: Wellbeing, Leading from Within, and Executive Leadership. These tracks were designed to fast-track growth with a structured process.

All three of these help expose the individual to the key pieces of who they are and how it is contributing to their leadership and wellbeing. Find out more at the link below.


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