Rise Performance Group

The Magnetic Power of Identity

In 2005, Ashley Smith was taken captive and held for seven hours by alleged rapist, Brian Nichols.  Nichols had escaped from jail after overpowering a guard and shooting three people dead, including the judge. Armed and dangerous, he was now in Ashley Smith’s apartment with a gun to her head.

When asked later about that night, Ashley said that instead of treating Nichols like a criminal she treated him like a normal person.  She found a connection with him, asking about his life and learning he was a father.

She shared her challenges with drug abuse and the fact that she was aspiring to be a good mother.  She also shared that she felt she had a purpose in life – being a mother, not a drug addict.

Nichols asked what she thought his purpose might be.  She responded that maybe his purpose is to be a father and make a difference in his child’s life.

At the end of the ordeal, Nichols released Ashley to see her daughter, allowing her to walk out of her apartment, sparing her life.

There is no force in human psychology greater than the need to remain consistent with your identity.  Ashley Smith survived by getting Brian to see himself as a father, not a criminal.  A father behaves very different than a rapist.

What is your identity? 

What is the identity of your team?

An empowering identify has a magnetic effect.  It pulls you up to the best version of yourself.  A strong team identity will pull everyone in your organization up to a better version of themselves.  Those that do not want to adopt the identity will self-select out; this  is not a bad outcome either.

How do you create an identity?

  • Declare it. Make a list of the words or phrases that describe you when you are at your best.  For example, are you a force, a servant, or preeminent?  Are you a mother, father, or child?  Are you a leader, an executive, or a philanthropist?  A programmer, manager, of laborer.  Who are you?  Spend some time writing down different labels and then declare the best words that are an aspirational version of you.


  • Reinforce through “I am” statements. During his time with Ashley Smith, Brian Nichols argued he was not the rapist everyone believed he was.  Ashley changed his behavior by getting him to associate his behaviors with those of a father.  “I am a father” creates different behaviors than “I am a rapist.”  In the same manner, “I am a leader” drives different behavior than “I am a manager.”  Try on different identities and see how they impact your attitude.


  • Focus on real-life examples of living up to your aspirational identity. In a daily journal, write examples of when you behaved in accordance with your desired identity.  Don’t let failure define you, rather let failure refine you.  No one is perfect, so learn from your mistakes.  Refer to your journal as affirmation of your identity and build on the successes you list there.

Start with yourself and then take this to your team.  The pace of change in the world is too great for you to stay static.  Keep growing stretching and evolving.  Go as far as you can go.  When you get there, you will see opportunity for even more growth.  After all, the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.

Declare it, live it, become it!

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