Social Identity in Leadership Development

Your identity as a leader is the sum total of your personal, professional, and social self (Lord and Hall, 2005). These three elements make you who you are, and it is impossible for your leadership to be separated from these elements of your identity. Traditionally, leadership has been thought of in terms of behavior leaders employ to direct followers, make decisions, and generate outcomes (Van Velsor et al., 2010), however, this stops short of recognizing it is social identity that is responsible for the behaviors leaders employ (Van Velsor et al., 2010). Everyone has a social identity that impacts their leadership development, and in our growing global society it is important for leaders to understand how their own social identity impacts others (Van Velsor et al., 2010).

This is particularly important for followers of Christ. Jesus called his followers to be salt and light to the earth (Mt. 5:13-16). When Jesus ascended he left his disciples with a command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19-20). This was a call to influence others into a relationship with Jesus; it was a call to go and lead others to his feet. In order to lead, followers of Jesus must understand how their social identity develops their leadership. Understanding social identity can unlock leader potential through development, or it can hinder leader potential if not integrated into leadership development. For Christians, identity begins with reflecting Christ and living out the virtues that he calls us to. Virtues are components of personal character considered traits of our identity (Hackett & Wang, 2012). Virtues provide a moral foundation for action (Hackett & Wang, 2012) that followers can trust, allowing them to encounter Christ.

What element of social identity do Christians get wrong most of the time?


Hackett, R. D., & Wang, G. (2012). Virtues and leadership. Management Decision, 50(5), 868–899.

Lord, R. G., & Hall, R. J. (2005). Identity, deep structure and the development of leadership skill. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(4), 591–615.

Van Velsor, E., McCauley, C. D., Ruderman, M. N., & Center for Creative Leadership (Eds.). (2010). The Center for Creative Leadership handbook of leadership development (3rd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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