When it comes to leading, self-identity matters. Research has shown that seeing yourself as a leader is an important first step on the path toward becoming one — and reluctance to identify as a leader can keep capable people from taking on leadership responsibilities. So, why are people so often uncomfortable with thinking of themselves as leaders?
While there are no doubt many factors at play, prior research has shown that reputational concerns can play a major role in deterring people from proactively pursuing their goals at work. As such, we were interested in whether perceived risk to people’s reputations could similarly impact their sense of identity as leaders, and in turn make them less likely to lead. To explore this question, we conducted a series of studies with more than 1,700 participants including full-time employees, MBA students, and U.S. Airforce cadets, and we consistently found that the more people worried about the reputational risks of being a leader, the less likely they were to identify as one.
Specifically, we identified three common reputational fears that hold people back from seeing themselves as leaders.
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