Identity Crisis and Leadership

Karl Bimshas
4 min readNov 8, 2023
Identity Crisis and Leadership by Karl Bimshas

When people claim they are experiencing an “identity crisis,” they’re saying they’re going through a period of uncertainty for various reasons:

  1. Self-doubt: They might question their life choices, values, or sense of self.
  2. Midlife crisis: This period of self-reflection and reevaluation can occur in middle age. It may involve a desire for change or a renewed focus on personal goals.
  3. Existential questioning: People may feel a sense of angst, pondering the purpose and meaning of life.
  4. Career dissatisfaction: Feeling unfulfilled in one’s job or career path can lead to a sense of crisis, as work often plays a significant role in our self-identity.
  5. Life transitions: Major events like marriage, parenthood, or retirement can prompt individuals to reevaluate their identity and purpose.
  6. Relationship issues: Troubles in personal relationships, including breakups or divorce, can lead to feelings of loss and questioning one’s identity.

These all refer to a period of introspection and uncertainty, not a clinical diagnosis. Most people don’t have a fixed sense of self; these are common human experiences reflecting a natural part of personal growth and development.

You might be in such a period now if you notice:

  • Confusion or uncertainty about your values and where you’re headed in life.
  • A strong desire to learn more about yourself and grow.
  • Questioning past decisions that no longer seem right.
  • Wanting to try new things and explore different aspects of yourself.
  • Spending more time thinking about who you are and talking to others about it.

Embracing this time of self-discovery can help you understand yourself better and your values.

The Leadership Identity Challenge

Leaders, like anyone else, also experience these uneasy feelings. It’s important as a leader to address it in a way that minimizes disruption and maximizes personal growth:

  1. Seek self-awareness: Reflect on your values, leadership style, and long-term goals.
  2. Communicate: Share your thoughts with trusted colleagues or mentors for guidance.
  3. Adapt your leadership style: Be open to adjusting your approach.
  4. Maintain a support network: Lean on your team and trusted advisors for assistance.
  5. Consider coaching or counseling: Professional guidance can help you navigate this period.

It’s okay to acknowledge your evolving identity while continuing to lead effectively. Personal growth and self-discovery will enhance your leadership skills in the long run.

Some Caution

As a leader, your actions and behaviors can inadvertently trigger an identity crisis in team members. This could occur if you:

  1. Impose rigid expectations: Leaders who expect team members to conform to a single, unchanging identity or set of values can create pressure and conflict.
  2. Create a hostile or unsupportive work environment: Bullying, discrimination, or a lack of inclusivity can result in a sense of alienation and identity conflict among team members.
  3. Overload others with excessive stress or demands: High stress levels and workload without adequate support can lead to burnout and self-doubt.
  4. Ignore individual growth and development: Leaders who don’t acknowledge or encourage personal and professional growth may cause team members to struggle with their evolving identities.

🚩 RED FLAG: Some people in leadership positions intentionally use manipulative tactics to control and destabilize team members, which could easily cause an identity crisis. Do your best to escape these abusive people, and if you are in a position to do so, expunge them from your organization.

Helping Your Team

Effective leaders must create a positive, supportive, and inclusive work environment that respects individual differences and encourages personal and professional development. If you notice members of your team struggling with their identities, here’s how you could support them:

  1. Create a space for open conversation to discuss their feelings and concerns without judgment.
  2. Listen actively and try to understand their perspective.
  3. Allow some flexibility in work assignments or roles to accommodate their personal growth.
  4. Encourage self-reflection and self-discovery and offer mentorship or coaching where appropriate.
  5. Be empathetic and provide emotional support.
  6. Respect their privacy and boundaries.

Being a supportive and understanding leader helps your team members navigate their identity changes while keeping a positive work environment.

Self-Check for Leaders

Ask yourself and reflect on the following questions:

  1. Am I creating an inclusive and respectful work environment that values diversity and individuality?
  2. Do I give clear expectations while allowing room for their personal growth and development?
  3. Am I offering support, guidance, and mentorship to help team members navigate their personal and professional development?
  4. Do I actively listen to and address their concerns and needs?
  5. Have I created a healthy work-life balance and manageable workload for my team?
  6. Am I aware of potential biases or discrimination in my leadership style or decisions?
  7. Do I encourage open communication and self-improvement for my team and myself?
  8. Have I established an environment that values self-awareness, self-reflection, and continuous improvement?

These questions can help you create a supportive and empowering environment that respects your team members’ identities and personal growth.

To get through an identity crisis, consider:

  1. Self-Reflection: Take the time to understand your values, beliefs, and aspirations. Journaling, meditation, or therapy can help.
  2. Seek Support: Connect with friends, family, mentors, or a therapist to discuss your feelings and gain perspective. Support from others can provide valuable insights and emotional assistance.
  3. Set goals and take action: Define your personal and professional goals and take small steps toward them. This can give you a sense of purpose.

An identity crisis is a natural part of personal and professional growth. Embrace it as a chance to discover more about yourself and an opportunity to make positive changes.



Karl Bimshas

Boston-bred and California-chilled Leadership Adviser | Writer | Podcast Host who helps busy professionals who want to manage better and lead well.