Adopting the right identity

A young female executive in her late 20s/early 30s is having difficulty getting her CEO to take her seriously, which is limiting her ability to influence the business. To help her understand and address the issue, we set up an interaction in which a horse is a metaphor for the CEO. Whilst this may sound strange, it is fascinating to observe how a person relates to a horse in this context, and how the horse often starts behaving just like the person they represent in the metaphor.

As the young lady starts interacting with the horse, her behaviour changes from that of a mature business executive to a 12-year-old girl whose body language is communicating “Please like me. Please be nice to me!”. The horse appears to be irritated by this. Describing to her what’s happening, she confirms that this is in fact the case – it is exactly how she behaves in the presence of the CEO. We now have two options – either spend time developing and rehearsing more appropriate behaviour, or approach the situation at an ‘identity’ level.

We focus on ‘identity’.

Question: “Who are you being [identity] with the CEO?”

Answer: “A 12-year-old girl who needs to be liked.”

Question: “Who would you rather be?”

Answer: “A capable and mature business executive.”

Question: “Can you think of times when you have been that business executive?”

Answer: “Yes.

When asked to remember one of those times and reflect on what she’s thinking, feeling and believing about the situation, her body language changes – she becomes more upright, she looks stronger and appears more confident about herself and her abilities. She then goes back to the horse. The horse’s response is completely different – he respects her space, and when she asks him to walk with her (without head-collar or rope), he follows. She now looks, and acts, like a confident business executive who has the ear of the CEO.

Having proved to herself that she can access this state by the way she is thinking, and seeing the difference it makes, she can choose to step into that identity whenever she is with the CEO.

Contributor: Andrew McFarlane

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