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Who Are You?

by Bates, Suzanne Sunday, May 16, 2010
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Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

The Who, 1978

When the English rock band The Who (Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, plus bassist john Entwistel and drummer Keith Moon) recorded one of their iconic 70’s anthems, their chorus posed a haunting rhetorical question to a guy who wakes up in Soho after a drunken, brawling night.

More than 30 years later, it’s hard to get those words out of your mind isn’t it? Not only when you’re 23, nursing a hangover, pondering how to make something of your life; but also when you’re older and figuring out what am I doing here? It’s important to ask because we all have a need to connect who we are with what we do. Call that - authenticity.

Years ago in designing our executive coaching program we developed an in-depth personal history interview for that reason. We realized we couldn’t coach anyone until we knew who they were. Where were you born; what did your parents do; what kind of student were you; what was college like; what did you want to be when you grew up? What happened earlly in your career; who were the people who shaped you; why did you choose this path? Why this industry? This company? This leadership role?

What’s intriguing is that this process isn’t just a valuable coaching tool. It helps our clients remember stories they had forgotten that reconnect the past with the present. These stories are a bridge to authentic leadership; useful not only to you, but to the people you lead. They also want to know. Who are you?

Years ago I met Dan Wolf, CEO and founder of Cape Air. Dan is a pilot with a side-splitting sense of humor and a gift for storytelling. Known as the airborne executive, he grew up fascinated by flying, hanging around airports. In the summers between college at Wesleyan, he learned to fly around Cape Cod. He tooks his last semester of college off to become an instructor and commercial pilot. Cape Air began as a flying school and then expanded to take on more and more routes. Eventually they became America’s largest privately-owned and operated commuter airline.

In an interview in CNNMoney.com a couple of years ago, he said, “There are airline CEOs who make a point to be active on the front lines — handing out nuts and meeting passengers in the airplane — but I really love the idea of still being able to fly. I make it a point to fly Saturdays in the summer because I know we’re busy. I’ll see how the operation is working, and since I’m flying on the weekend, I’m not taking time away from my desk job.”

Now there is a guy who is passionate about his company. He loves flying. I understand who he is. So do his employees. This could account for the fact that when you click on the awards list of their web site you have to keep scrolling and scrolling. They’ve won everything from the prestigious Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in New England to the Greater Boston Chamber Small Business Award, and Cape Cod Citizen of the Year Award, and dozens of others.

I don’t have any interest whatsoever in promoting or highlighting Dan Wolf - I’ve only met the guy once. But I think I “get” who he is. And I would imagine that people who work for him do, too.

When people understand who a leader and that resonates with them, they’re like to want to be part of his or her organization. If you love the Cape, enjoy the aviation business, like the idea of working for an employee owned company run by a guy with passion and a sense of humor, then you’re quite like to find Cape Air attractive. And once you get there, you’re likely to work hard and stay around.

It isn’t always an easy question to answer. But I will tell you this. It’s worth examining.