Ever suspected your boss or a coworker is someone entirely different outside of their nine-to-five?
If they are indeed masquerading as somebody else when they’re around their colleagues, they might actually be onto something.
Many workplace coaches say creating an alter ego just for work could better position you for career success—and elite players across industries are said to be paying thousands of dollars for lessons in how to take on a new persona.
In a series of social media posts earlier this year, Matt Schnuck—a San Francisco-based entrepreneur and executive coach—outlined how the performance enhancing technique, a favorite of the rich and famous, was taught by “the most expensive executive coaches” as a method for overcoming imposter syndrome.
@mattschnuck Beyonce overcame imposter syndrome with these FIVE STEPS (and you can do it too)👆🏼 #sashafierce #beyonce #characterinvention #impostorsyndrome ♬ Music Instrument – Gerhard Siagian
“Even the best in the world get insecure. They’ve just found ways to work with it skillfully,” Schnuck—who promises to share the secrets of the world’s best coaches with his 40,000 followers—said. “One technique Beyoncé uses: Character Invention.”
Beyoncé famously crafted Sasha Fierce, her on-stage persona, to help her perform with confidence. The megastar named her 2008 album I Am … Sasha Fierce after her alter ego, whom she once described in an interview with Oprah Winfrey as a “thing that takes over” in front of an audience.
“It’s kind of like doing a movie,” she said at the time. “When I hear the chords, when I put on my stilettos… the moment right before [going onstage] when you’re nervous—then Sasha Fierce appears, and my posture and the way I speak and everything is different.”
Beyoncé retired Sasha Fierce in 2010, but she’s far from the only A-lister to have drawn on an alter ego at some point throughout their career.
Other famous alter egos include David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Nicki Minaj’s Roman Zolanski, and all-star athlete Bo Jackson’s Jason—who was based on the serial killer villain in the Friday the 13th movie franchise.
Music icon Paul McCartney spoke in 2008 about finding creative liberation by working under the alias “The Fireman” as part of a musical collaboration with artist Youth.
“The pseudonym allows you to be anyone you want to be,” he said in an interview with NPR. “We always say, The Fireman can do anything. I think you can get into a bit of a straitjacket—you know, I am ‘Paul of The Beatles’ or I am ‘Paul McCartney’ who makes albums a certain way. So, it’s very liberating.”
Here’s how you can create your own Fireman and Sasha Fierce, according to several top coaches—including the one who helped Kobe Bryant craft Black Mamba.
A technique for ‘ambitious human beings’
Todd Herman, author of The Alter Ego Effect, is a performance coach to pro athletes, business leaders and public figures—and the mastermind behind late NBA star Kobe Bryant’s famous “Black Mamba” alter ego.
Herman says that while the alter ego approach is used by a number of top sports personalities, it’s a tool that’s accessible to everybody.
“Does everyone have to have an alter ego? Of course not,” he says. “But if you’re an ambitious human being, you’re always going to be bumping up against the edge of your comfort zone—and knowing how to not get trapped by an old identity is a very powerful reframe.”
Clinton Senkow, a hockey player turned entrepreneur and executive coach, is also a big fan of helping his clients develop alter egos to push into new frontiers of success.
He runs an online coaching program for entrepreneurs and professionals called “The Partnership Method,” which promises help with “unlocking new opportunities and achieving sustainable growth” and is priced at $1,997.
“We as businesspeople wear multiple hats all the time, and you also have your personal life as well,” he tells Fortune. “When you develop an alter ego, it allows you to step into this persona that gives you an advantage.”
How to develop your alter ego
Identify your weaknesses
According to Herman, a good starting point for crafting an alter ego is analyzing all the aspects of your own personality—parent, coworker, soccer enthusiast, boss—to determine which piece of you needs help.
“When I started this [coaching] business, I was very good at coaching young athletes, but I was terrible at growing my business,” he says. “I was scared of rejection. So, my first alter ego, Super Richard, was built to be the advocate for Todd. He was the sales guy, he was the brand guy. So, the first thing to decide is, where do you have friction? What’s the identity you’d like help with?”
Senkow agrees that “a really great first step” is drilling down into exactly what your biggest obstacles are.
“What are you insecure about? Or why are you scared?” he says. “Is it that there’s 200 people and you only like talking to 10? Ok, so you don’t like being in front of a crowd. Understanding the issue is the first step.”
Choose your character
When Herman developed Super Richard, he wanted the character to be articulate, decisive and confident, as he says he wasn’t any of those things himself.
He says it can be helpful to look to historical figures, fictional characters, or even inanimate objects to determine the “source code,” or personality traits, you want in your alter ego. It’s this advice that led to the birth of both Super Richard and Kobe Bryant’s Black Mamba.
“Once I knew the traits [I wanted to manifest], the question was who could be my source of inspiration for that—what already exists out there that I’m inspired by?” he explains.
Herman says he drew on qualities of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, famed American writer Joseph Campbell and DC Comics character Superman to ensure Super Richard was a manifestation of the traits he was lacking.
When he was put in touch with Bryant via a mutual acquaintance in the early 2000s, Herman set the NBA legend some “prep work” that involved reflecting on who or what inspired him.
Their meeting came shortly after the Los Angeles Lakers star was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his Colorado hotel room—claims he denied.
The criminal case against Bryant was eventually dropped in 2004, while a civil case relating to the same encounter was settled out of court—but the allegations and their impact on his reputation weighed him down during games, Herman says.
“Kobe just happened to watch Kill Bill, and he was like, that’s exactly what I need [to become],” Herman tells Fortune.
In the 2003 movie, Uma Thurman’s protagonist—an elite assassin—is known by the codename Black Mamba because of her ruthless and deadly skillset.
Herman says Bryant dedicated his energy to digging down into exactly how channeling the black mamba would help him on the court—to the point that he “probably knew more about the black mamba snake than any biologist.”
In Muse, a 2015 documentary, Bryant explained how the alter ego helped him get through the low point in his career, noting that at the time, crowds at his games would “bombard” him with verbal abuse.
“I felt like there were so many things coming at once, it was just becoming very, very confusing,” he said. “I had to organize things, so I created the Black Mamba. So, Kobe has to deal with all the personal challenges. The Black Mamba steps on court and does what he does.”
“When I step on that court, I become that. I am that killer snake. I’m stone cold, man,” Bryant said in an interview the same year.
Find a prop
According to Senkow, having a physical item that you associate with your alter ego can be a big help when it comes to morphing into the character.
“It could be wearing a certain sweater, or always wearing the same hat,” he says. “Or is it wearing the same type of shoes or using the right type of hockey stick?”
Herman agrees that an artifact or uniform-like totem can be used as a trigger to get into your alter ego’s state of mind.
“A lot of people will wear glasses,” he says. “That’s exactly what I did, I went and bought a pair of non-prescription glasses, and I put them on to become the reverse of Superman and Clark Kent. That was me putting on my cape.”
For others using alter egos to become better leaders or improve their professional capabilities, something as simple as setting an alarm can help them snap into their expertly-crafted persona.
Herman also owns a helmet based on Star Wars villain Darth Vader, which he wears anytime he needs to write marketing content.
“I will step into the identity of Darth Vader, because the last person in the universe, or the galaxy, that I think would be concerned about what other people think of his writing is Darth Vader,” Herman explains. “It’s really hard to take yourself too seriously when you’re wearing a Darth Vader helmet—it allows me to be a lot more fun and creative when I’m writing and brainstorming.”
“It’s about being very intentional with how you want to show up in the world,” he says.