Becoming Leaders: How Men and Women Leaders First Internalize Their Leader Identity
Despite a burgeoning body of literature on leader identity development, motivated by a growing recognition of its pivotal role in leadership development, we still lack empirical explorations and deeper insights into the processes through which individuals internalize a leader identity (incorporate leader as part of their self-definition). Such insights are important, because how individuals define themselves highly influences their subsequent motivation, behavior, and even performance. Are there patterns with respect to how people first begin to truly feel and identify as a leader? What sense- making do people engage in to make an identity transition into a leader? Do men and women differ in how and when leader identity internalization happens? To shed light into these questions, we conducted interviews with 46 men and 46 women top-level leaders to explore when they first began to see themselves as leaders in their lives. Using qualitative methods, we uncover four common prominent patterns of leader identity internalization, and based on this, we build a typology to enrich current theories of leader identity development. We then identify key differences between men and women leaders. Finally, we offer theoretical explanations and implications of these findings, as well as practical suggestions for how leaders and organizations might capitalize on them.