KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak to Jennifer Petriglieri from Insead [business school in France].
Jennifer, you have been looking at how identity impacts leadership. What have you found?
JENNIFER PETRIGLIERI – So, traditionally in leadership studies, we tend to focus on styles or actions of leaders, which of course are important. But I think the way research is going, and what we are really uncovering now, is almost as important is the identity of the leader. Because of course if we think of leadership, the counter is followership, and how do we invoke followership? It is often invoked when people see in the leader a piece of themselves. So it is not just about influence and providing a vision, it is about representation. So does this person represent me as an individual? If I feel that they do, they have shared concerns, I am much more likely to follow them and to, if you like, give them leadership or an authority in the group.
So we have really been developing both our theoretical thinking in this area, and there are a number of scholars working on this area, but also how do we teach this in the MBA classroom, because it's much more nebulous, and in the executive classroom as well it's much more difficult to talk about individuals' identities than perhaps transformational versus transactional leadership styles and actions you can take.
Really, what we are challenging people now to do in the classroom in our courses, both executive and MBA, is start thinking about who am I as an individual and, given that, how might different groups of constituents react to me? Because, let me give an example between the two of us.
If we both go and give a speech on a certain thing, it will be taken very differently. Even if we say the exactly the same words and use the same slides, it will be taken differently because of our identities, maybe our national identities, our historical identities, our age, or our gender. Lots of things influence this. So different people might identify with you than would identify with me. I think it is very important for people to start understanding this, particularly as the world of work gets more and more diverse.
KARL MOORE – When I think about that Jennifer, do I have an identity which I should find groups I identify with or can I be more elastic and appeal to more identities somehow? What do you think?
JENNIFER PETRIGLIERI – Actually one of my students had a super analogy for this, which I will use. She said that "I have been thinking about myself as this glitter ball, the disco glitter ball with lots of different faces," and when we think of our identity we tend to think of those faces that are very obvious – the fact that I am white, I'm female, I am British, I am a professor.
But she said, "Of course I have many other different faces and the challenge of leadership is kind of rotating that glitter ball, if you like, so people see those different aspects of yourself."
So it is not that you can only lead people who look exactly the same as you and sound exactly the same as you, but it's about finding a piece of yourself that they find represented in [you]. Because we are all multifaceted, none of us have just two or three identities, even though visibly we might look like that.
So it's not about leading homogeneous groups, but it's about if you have a heterogeneous group of diversity, what is the piece of you that different people can identify with? And for different people, it might be different things. One [group of] people may identify with you on something very visible, maybe your cultural background, your age, etc., but for someone else it might be an experience you had in the past. This is why, as a leader in this day-and-age, it's very important to be more personable, to reveal more aspects of yourself and not just to be the thing that people can see.