The One Identity Of A Leader

It happened again a few weeks ago. A Christian leader I follow on Twitter and whom I respect a lot, tweeted something quite unfriendly that was obviously meant as a direct message. He deleted it about a minute later, but the damage had been done already, at least with me. He wasn’t who I thought he was, because otherwise he would have never written something so ugly.

A man with two different identities

Image by JD Hancock

Having one consistent identity has always been a challenge for leaders. Everyone knows the stories of leaders who were easygoing and loved outside, but a complete nightmare to their families.

With the rise of social media, fining and maintaining that one identity has become even more of a challenge. Authentic leadership requires us to be the same person at home, at work, in the church and online. Including those instances where we think nobody is watching us. But how many of us really have one identity?

Different identities

In a youth work conference I attended two years ago, one of the speakers explained how young people often maintain several identities both online and in real life. They’re one person on Tumblr, another on Twitter, one type with their girlfriends and another with their parents. In every area, they feel they can show certain parts, but have to hide others.

I think for many leaders it’s the same. If I were to summarize your social media posts and compare them to who you are at home or in the church, would I be able to see one consistent identity? Or would there be discrepancies, like the respected Christian leader who wasn’t so nice when he thought no one was watching?

True identity

The easiest approach of course would be for me to give you a list of things you have to be careful with when posting online. Like realizing that nothing is ever private on the Internet, meaning you have to write and post everything as if anyone can read it. But that would be missing the point.

The point isn’t to be careful what you post or to make certain you project a certain image. The point is that you have to BE the same everywhere, that it’s a true identity and not just something you carefully construct.

Last week we had two 18-year old guys stay with us for a week. My husband and I have been in youth ministry for a long time and we love having teens over. But each and every time, it’s also a reality check. Because they see everything we do, hear everything we say and they’ll know when we’re faking it.

My teens, they know me in person, they know me from Facebook and Twitter and they know me from church. If I don’t walk the talk, if my identity at home or on social media differs from what I pour into them in the youth ministry, they’ll know and it will lessen my impact.

The one identity of a leader

As leaders, we need to have one consistent identity and it needs to be out in the open, in the light. Those things we do in secret, those urges or wants that we try to keep hidden from anyone else, they will become our downfall. If they’re not sin already, they will be and they will bring us down.

If we want our leadership to be authentic and effective, we need to have one identity, even when we think no one is watching. Because someone always is.

Question: Are you the same everywhere or do you see different identities within you? Please share your answers in the comment section below.

This was a guest post by Rachel Blom. Rachel is a writer and youth leader with a passion for Jesus, teens and chocolate. She’s Dutch of origin, American at heart but at the moment resides in the south of Germany with her family. She blogs for youth leaders at Youth Leaders Academy and is a big fan of Twitter.

I’m always looking for guest posters. If you would like to guest post, you can find the guidelines at An Invitation To Guest Post.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I understand the underlying message of this guest post – be authentic when you’re seen and when you’re not seen – but doesn’t forgiveness include the Christian who says something ugly too? He removed the comment, he recognized his error…

    • I agree with you, Elizabeth– forgiveness is the ultimate charge of Christians. As humans, though, we tend to hold on to these little things. Leaders must be mindful of their influence. That feeling of shock when you first see something you know doesn’t line up with your expectations of a leader runs deep.

      • Of course Justin, and it’s hardest when it’s a leader who you admire or are learning from. Oh! The joys of being human!

    • You’re absolutely right that forgiveness is of crucial importance and that we should show grace towards others. I just wanted to express my shock and in a way, disappointment in who he turned out to be. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t forgive him…but it’s a lot harder to forget to be honest.

      • Yes, I have had similar experiences too – one which took me months to come to terms with. And the blessing (and curse) of the internet is that our messages are out there so quick with no rewind button either!

    • Elizabeth, of course forgiveness is needed. And I’m sure Rachel is willing to/has forgiven this leader. But there are consequences for when we’re inconsistent or do something out of character.

      Overall, I think it’s a great reminder that we want our lives to be a shining example. Not a mish-mash of goodness here and then darkness in what we do in private.

  • Good challenge for leaders. Inconsistent identities range from these dramatic examples to moments of indiscretion to even not being available to help or serve. Maintaining a consistent identity is a challenge because life throws curve-balls all the time. Thanks for the challenge to be more mindful of the messages we put out– and their impact on our “followers”.

    • You’re right that not all inconsistencies are ‘dramatic’, but sometimes it’s the little things we do or neglect to do that negatively impact others.

    • I’m glad Rachel was able to give you a challenge today Justin.

  • This is a great question and challenge! I want to be the same, but if I’m honest I probably adapt to the situation and people group I’m with.

    • It’s a struggle Jon. Sometimes we relax and become a person we don’t want others to see.

  • Jeff

    “The point is that you have to BE the same everywhere, that it’s a true identity and not just something you carefully construct.”

    This is why I stay away from leadership or teaching functions, because I’d have to change myself to do those things. Whenever I am in any leadership function, or any HINT that I’m wiser or more experienced, I’m implying that I have the level of integrity, wisdom, aptitude, or strength that comes with that function.

    I try so hard to make sure that I act in any way that produces multiple identities, that I usually just stay away from people that I’m not authentic with.

    • That can be a wise decision Jeff. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes along with leadership.

  • I am me, always, and always will be me, forever. I don’t like pretenses, I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not, and I don’t like others who do.

    Of course, there are many sides to me, but I try to present myself with some modicum of professionalism when dealing with professionals, and relax when dealing with my friends.

    On the internet, and in different forums, on social media, etc, I’m the same person no matter where I am.

    • Awesome Lorraine. That’s how we should be.

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