Working at the Level of Identity (of Self)

Why talk about Identity?

How do you manage the team member who is not performing/behaving at the desired level, to bring them up to meeting requirements? The majority of managers talk about ‘changing behaviour’ or ‘managing performance’, yet the problem of substandard behaviour is not a ‘behaviour problem’. Humans are complex animals, and behaviour is the outcome of a whole chain of thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, experiences, motivations and abilities. Behaviour does not just ‘happen’, the process leading up to it is often long and convoluted.

Einstein said, ‘a problem cannot be solved at the same logical level at which it was created’.

This means if you have identified a behaviour issue, you will not solve it by merely asking the person to change their behaviour or training them to do same. The very best you can hope for is the behaviour you would like to see, while the person is being watched. As soon as your back is turned, the team member (or teenager, for that matter) is likely to go back to doing what is easy, quick, less effort or looks cool.

We need to look higher up the hierarchy of logical levels.

What do we mean by identity of self?

Back in the 1970s Robert Dilts created a model to demonstrate the Logical Levels in a hierarchy:

Making any change at the Environment or Behaviour level is unlikely to be long lasting because it is a low level of change, and does not involve a person re-considering why they are changing, or who they see in the mirror. Someone who sees a victim in the mirror will find it extremely difficult to step and take control of their situation because it goes against who they are. Similarly, the person who sees an office junior or operative in the mirror would have to muster inordinate levels of self-delusion to step up as a manager.

Psychology suggests as human beings with rational thought, we cannot make a liar of ourselves. Therefore if I see myself as an untalented also-ran, no amount of feedback from others on the level of my talent will change that until I am prepared (or able) to change my identity of self to match the person seen by others.

How do we work at the level of identity?

The first thing we do is talk our delegates through this model, using examples from everyday life (Identity of Self as a smoker, overweight unfit person, office junior, too old/too young, too short/too tall, too underqualified/too overqualified for this). Insert descriptor as applicable.

Working at the identity level sometimes takes a leap of faith as it is very different, and often requires the individual to dig deep and unpack years of beliefs, experiences, flippant comments from peers, teachers or parents, playground taunts, feedback from interviews, etc. We find the concept of Identity is pretty straightforward to understand; the peeling back of layers can be an interesting exercise, sometimes light-hearted, often emotional and potentially life-changing. Almost always behaviour-changing.


The concept of Identity of Self runs through everything we do here in ML&C because it is so fundamental to the way we learn, choose, prioritise, tolerate others’ behaviour, look after and value ourselves, and so on.