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The Harvard Kennedy course on leadership, built around the book of Marty Linsky and Ron Heifetz, offered counterintuitive material. Leadership courses would often tell you that you have to really believe in what you do, or put differently that your passion should become your job, or vice versa. That thought always caused me some discomfort. While there should be overlap between your “self” and your organizational role and while exercising leadership entails a high level of commitment, one also should make sure to keep them separate, is what the course proposes.

If there is no distinction between your role at the workplace and your identity, there is no space where you are protected. Any workplace attack on you for what you said or did becomes a personal attack. If you can distinguish your “self” from what you do at work, you will also be someone who can use personal attacks more productively. Rather than reacting defensively, you can think better about why certain people resist you at work, what it says about your view or idea, and what it says about the others and the organization.

It is hard to do. We all know from arguing with colleagues and friends that personal counterattacks just raise the heat, and lead to an end situation where no one feels happy, including the person who attacked your idea or what you stand for by using the proxy of attacking you as a person. But if you manage to observe yourself as an employee or manager, you put some healthy distance between who you are and what you do. And you can work better with the signals that you get, not necessarily to put you off track in achieving your purpose, but at least to question and re-question your purpose, and to work with the resistance that you encounter.

One more issue related to this is that people often get better ideas while walking in the park, working out at the gym, or just sitting comfortably at home, as opposed to sitting behind a computer or in a meeting. For employers and organizations, it means that offering an environment with a good work-life balance will be more conducive to creative work.