Reinventing Identity

If there’s one thing my mentor has ingrained in my brain this: “leadership is the art of inspiring others to struggle for a common cause.”

Everything you need to be a great leader is condensed to this single sentence. It’s worth reading that sentence again. The spirit of a team, and their tolerance to struggle, is dependent on the identity built collectively between the members. Identity forms comradery. 

One of Steve Jobs' maxims in the early days of Apple was “it’s better to be a pirate than join the navy.” A pirate was a rebel. Pirates take pride in being outlaws devoid of rules. There’s a willingness to take what they feel they’re owed. Jobs instilled this identity in the Macintosh team.

The original Apple "pirates".

The identity of being a pirate became a part of the Macintosh team's culture. On Jobs’ 28th birthday the team bought a billboard that said “Happy 28th Steve. The Journey is the Reward – The Pirates.” The team also climbed the roof of the Apple building late one night to hoist a flag they had painted up. Their identity waved high in the wind for everyone to see.

If you want to inspire others around a common cause, give them an identity that taps deep into their spirits desires.

Identity isn’t just important for a strong team dynamic. It’s important for a leader to have a strong personal identity that others find inspiration in. A leader with a strong identity is like a lighthouse drawing the team towards better values, principles and a clearer vision.

Memories shape your perception of the present and expectations of the future. Those expectations cause your identity to shift and change. What would your identity be if the one you had at 9 or 10 years old was fixed?

Shed your past identity

Identity is often built on shifting sand.

There’s no better school to study the evolution of your identity than the past. When most people look at the identities they’ve held for themselves in the past they’re left cringing or burdened by various memories. Negativity bias breeds this tendency in you.

Half of the battle is viewing evolution objectively. A backwards glancing eye will highlight your desires at those points in time. Examine the mistakes and misalignments to your new goal. Look at what distracted you from your life's purpose.

Identity sits at the crossroads of expectation and desire. Avoid a conflicting identity. Stop negotiating between the person you are who you want to become. Reinventing your identity is less about becoming someone new and more about shedding who you’re not.

You break the patterns of the past by shedding who you’re not.

In his return to Apple, Steve Jobs focused on creating a resilient company that was capable of enduring challenges. No more pirates competing with other teams in the organization. No more rebels going against authority.

The formula to build something timeless is to reinvent yourself.

Mike Markkula told Jobs Hewlett-Packard (HP) repeatedly did just that. That’s how they’ve survived 84 years (founded in 1939). HP started as an instrument company. It evolved into a calculator company and finally a computer company. Markkula pointed out to Jobs, “Apple has been sidelined by Microsoft in the PC business. You’ve got to reinvent the company to do some other thing, like other consumer products or devices. You’ve got to be like a butterfly and have a metamorphosis.” 

This echoed in Steve Jobs’ mind for 4 years, until the iPod was released transforming Apple to become an icon for innovation and human design.

What makes an icon?

You’ve got to be like a butterfly and have a metamorphosis.

Icons are built by moments in time. They provide people some sense in the tensions of times. Cultural authority gives them the ability to assert a frame to the way people view things.

Icons always protect and project their values. Icons project an identity others can adopt.

In a fast changing world, icons strive to disrupt themselves before others disrupt them to stay ahead. What defines an icon from a fad is their willingness to sacrifice short-term popularity for long-term relevance.

All icons give people something that they can identify with.

An icon leaders others through the inspiration of their character. Any enduring leader must become an icon.

Reinventing who you are begins with a desire. The seed of an idea slowly becomes a cocoon for your vision to grow. The vision provides enough force for you to shed your identities of the past.

In this phase of your metamorphosis it’s important to identify your needs, triggers, and substitutes to build up the habits to constantly take action towards that vision each day. Tell your friends about your vision to create social pressure. Be meticulous in tracking progress. Build up the fire for your self-discipline.

The process of reinventing yourself into an icon consists of pre-work to build the bridge to your new self-image.

Redesign your identity

The greatest task you’ll ever engage in is taking control of the process. I believe it’s a moral obligation most people neglect. After all, it's your life. You only get one so why would anything be more important than leveling yourself up.

I say it’s a moral obligation because by remaking yourself you're a better leader which in turn makes you stronger in every relationship in your life.

Take pleasure in forming and molding yourself like clay.

I mentioned before that reinventing yourself begins with desire. Start with answering this simple question: what is your idea of success?

Okay, maybe it’s not that simple of a question. Look at the people you believe are successful. Your role models. They are the ones that won the “game” you’re currently trying to play. 

It’s a good starting point but the real people that succeed don’t even play the games. They rise above them entirely which is what allows them to navigate the idea maze effortlessly. Both at peace and engaged in their work. It requires a different type of internal focus, identity reference point, self-control, and self-awareness. You need an agenda to get there.

The Transformation Agenda

It’s harder for a founder to reinvent their company than it is for you to reinvent yourself. 

Howard Schultz saw the performance of Starbucks in 2007. He knew he had to return and reinvent the company. Michael Dell, a friend of Schultz for many years, had undergone this process of reinventing Dell in the past. 

One tool he used was the Transformation Agenda. The focus is on revitalizing the company through strategic initiatives, innovation, and a return to core values (a lot of buzz words). Really the goal is to refocus on 3 items.

Here’s a 6 step process to apply the transformation agenda to reinvent your personal identity:

  1. Vision Setting: Define what your ideal personal identity looks like. This includes understanding your values, what you stand for, and how you want to be perceived by others. Your vision is set by your idea of success. If you’re going to adopt a vision from someone else, copy the transcendent goal rather than the crowd or false idols.
  1. Goal Setting: Establish specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that align with your vision. These could involve career achievements, personal development, social relationships, or health.
  1. Assessment: Honestly assess your current identity, including strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. This helps in identifying the gaps between your current state and the desired future state. Evaluating the past is critical so you know what values or habits you must shed from your former self.
  1. Strategy Development: Develop a strategy that outlines the steps needed to bridge the gap between current and future identity. This might include acquiring new skills, changing behaviors, expanding your network, or other personal changes.
  1. Implementation: Take action on your strategy with consistency. This might involve enrolling in courses, seeking mentorship, practicing new behaviors, or restructuring your daily routines.
  1. Monitoring and Adjustment: Regularly review your progress towards your goals. Be prepared to adjust your strategies as needed to stay on track towards your transformation.

Use the Transformation Agenda to reinvent your own identity. Level up as leader so you can become an icon and reach your vision.

  1. Isaacson, W. (2022) Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, pp. 144-320.
  2. Greene, R. (2019) The laws of human nature. New York: Penguin Books.
  3. Schultz, H. and Gordon, J. (2019) Onward: How starbucks fought for its life without losing its soul. New York, NY: Rodale, pp. 49-74.
  4. Jorgenson, E. (2020) The Almanack of Naval Ravikant. BookBaby, pp. 141-151
  5. Some ideas adopted from:

Join 1,000+ others receiving Pioneers Project

Every Sunday, you'll receive ideas to help you challenge the status quo, refine your craft, and shape the future.