Why should leaders care about our social identities?

Lowney’s (2003) reference to Daniel Goleman’s notion of Emotional intelligence—specifically self-awareness and self-regulation—reminded me of myself and my leadership style.  Someone said to me after Mass one day, “Young lady, —which I appreciated— you should try wearing a dress to church rather than whatever it is you are wearing right now because that is what good Catholic girls do” ……Yes, the Social Categorization of the virtuous Catholic girl.  Let the record show that I did not deliver the cutting retort I had in mind at the time.  Thank God for good self-regulation—otherwise, I would not have paused for that deep breath.  Self-awareness in unpleasant situations will allow me to process intentionally before I act, since I am prone to been hijacked by my emotions.

In the discussion by Haslam, Reicher and Platow’s (2011) on Social Identity,  I was thinking about the consequences for leaders and leadership when the fear behind loss of social identity is realized, such as in Brexit, the killing of Nigerian immigrants in South Africa, the refugee crisis and President Trump’s election.  Advancing collective interest and having a sense of ‘us’ becomes even more noteworthy in present times.  The lesson is that we should be aware of the social identities of the people we lead, especially the identities they have either ascribed to themselves or have been imposed upon them.  That knowledge will help us understand how they communicate, why they react the way they do, and how best to help them along their “introspective journey” …a favorite phrase of mine from (Lowney, 2003, p. 95).  Maybe leaders can do this by reflecting on their strengths, practicing gratitude, identifying mental baggage that hinders their full potential, articulating their goals and ambitions, determining what they stand for and what they believe all while being comfortable with being vulnerable.

References

Haslam, S. S., Reicher, S. D., & Platow, M. J. (2011). The new psychology of leadership: Identity, influence, and power. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Lowney, C. (2003). Heroic leadership: Best practices from a 450-year-old company that changed the world. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press.

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