Mar 22, 2011

Who Do You Have to Imitate To Be a Great Leader?

All my life I just wanted to be me. Did not think I was perfect, but did not think everyone else was better. Not in everything, at least.

In Business School (Leadership course) we read number of case studies about business leaders, where we learnt what they wore, how they spoke, and even what cigars they were smoking.

In simple words, I guess we were trying to figure out what made Jack Welch, Herb Kelleher, Michael Dell (yes, I was in Austin, US) and others - famous business leaders.

What would we do if we were them?

I did not know what I would do in most cases, as clearly I wasn’t them. Which made some case studies boring or pointless for me. Jack, Herb, Michael were right where they were because of who they were and what they were interested in.

Why do I bother you writing about other leaders?

I still follow and research what famous business leaders do, trying to understand why it worked well. I admire some of their achievements, or get inspired by business results, or human qualities I recognize.

I often think if and how I could apply some of advice or examples I have found. I like to share that advice in case it might be good for you, but you are the ones who choose. That is how I got inspired for series of articles ‘’Best Success Advice.’’

But if it does not resonate with me, i.e. who I am, and want to remain - it is just a nice read and another insight on what is possible.

Questions I would ask myself before attempting to imitate anyone

  • Doesn't it waste too much energy trying to try feel, think and behave unlike you normally do?
  • Are you convinced anyone believes it, anyway?
  • What do you think the chances are you would keep up false appearance (to large groups)?
  • How do you make them believe what you (deep down) don't?
  • Is it worth it to live pretending to be someone else? (a very loud ‘’No’’ in my case)

My Belief About Imitation

Somehow the others see, sense, or figure there is a contradiction somewhere, if the image you are trying to project is very different to who you are. They know there is something wrong. That it is not really you

At best you can get people confused, and as a leader you want to create clarity, determination, enthusiasm, loyalty, commitment, dedication. You don’t need confusion to stand in the way.

I am not saying you should go through life or leadership justifying all weaknesses, mistakes, or neglecting possible improvements, by stubbornly repeating ''That's how I am. Take it or leave it.''

Your thoughts?

I am just checking if you have ever managed to lead and inspire groups by imitating someone else, another leader with personality different to yours.

I did not, and do not think I would like to, but please just let us all know if you have done it, how, why, or share your experience by posting a comment, so we can all learn something new.

I deeply value authenticity and believe it is important for your leadership. It shines out of you. There is something respectable about it. Often it feels you need guts to be 100 % you.

One of the authors, researchers and strategists I trust the most, Marcus Buckingham, advises managers: ‘’Always individualize 'best practices.' One person's trademark trick looks forced & foolish in the hands of another.’’

Can you remember noticing any examples of this around you?

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  1. Imitating is not a leadership trait

  2. Thanks Raied, I'd say the same at this point, but am open to hear different opinions...

  3. My role model, whose leadership I would like to imitate, is Jesus Christ... it seems like he spoke the truth no matter what, yet was gentle and kind and compassionate. Plus he showed love for his enemies and preached forgiveness and tolerance.

    If world leaders and their followers acted like Jesus Christ, maybe our planet would be totally different from what it is today...

    Many argue that Jesus was not really human and that he was an idealist... so perhaps it is impossible to be like Jesus in current times...

  4. Hi Maina, thanks for your comment. As authentic person and a leader you choose and stand up for your values, and whoever you admire.

    Actually Gallup's research confirms compassion goes a long way, and is one of the main things followers expect from their leader.

  5. we learn from people around us, but it is impossible to imitate as our personalities and environment differ.
    don't think about leadership as a legendary thing,,!! we are all can be leaders
    its about vision, passion, skills, inspiration, and persuasion

  6. That is the point I was making. We are different and it is something to be proud about, yet we can always learn, even change the way we look at things.

    More on learning is in ''Leadership skills, Learning and Confidence''

    Also wrote couple of articles here on (role of) passion. It seems to be a word we can not avoid.

    Passion articles are here:
    Best advice for success, part 2 - Follow Your Passion

    Do your talents and passion meet at work.

    Thanks for stopping by and posting a comment.

  7. This is true that we learn from people around us. But, are we learning good qualities or just learn whatever comes on the way. Most of the time learning is from your supervisors or colleagues. One of my ideal boss (I think he is a great leader) once told me that in 30 years of his career he had the opportunity to work with 20+ bosses and he made it a point to pick up at least one good quality from every boss, ignoring their bad qualities. You can imagine what impact that kind of learning will make on one's professional life. There is no need to imitate but learn at every stage.

  8. Hi Mohan and thanks for the comment. It makes me happy to hear you had a boss you call a great leader, who was open to learning new things. I believe in learning every day, about me, about business, people around me, the world...There are things I adopt and try every now and then, with more or less success.

  9. Liliana, Imitation is not always about faking it.

    Faking it is deceptive and there is no intention to learn. Imitation on the other hand is about a deep desire to become a better person by copying behaviors that we admire in great leaders.

    During training, we imitate our trainers. In life, can train ourselves by imitating the good behaviors of our role models.

    How to tell the difference? The faker is insincere (the new behavior is temporary and only when there is a reward) whereas the imitator is sincere (consistent effort to learn the new behavior.. eventually the new behavior becomes part of the person i.e. becomes authentic).

    If one accepts that his/her "authentic self" is fixed and cannot change, then the person's scope of improvement (and by extension capabilities in life) will be limited by his/her own beliefs and self image.

  10. Hi Maina, I agree with your point. Can't stand faking and don't believe in it, although being authentic does not mean I keep repeating ''I am like that, take or leave it.''
    Am looking out for role models too, and admiring many different people, from different fields. If there is a thing I learn that resonates with me and my values, so I don't need to fake it, I gladly embrace it, or try it out.
    Thanks for adding value to this discussion


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