How We Really Learn to Lead
You learn to lead the same way babies learn to walk, by observation, training, and experimentation.
Development in any arena begins by seeing what’s possible. Moms and dads show children what’s possible. Michael Jordan and Andre Bocelli show athletes and singers what’s possible.
Leadership growth begins by choosing the right models.
You learn to lead by imitation. Yes, you learn from books, but you learn more from imitation. The necessities of leadership are learned by imitation.
Imitation isn’t being fake. It’s finding your own path forward.
Too many novices prematurely rush to be themselves. They would be better off imitating someone else. Don’t rush to be yourself. Instead, rush to choose a model and be like them.
“Models are people who show us what is worth wanting.” Luke Burgis
Imitation makes growth easy.
Imitation happens every time you ask yourself what someone else would do.
Admiration fuels imitation. In other words, you become like the people you admire. One secret to becoming the leader you aspire to be is admiring the right leaders.
Choosing negative models is undervalued. Who don’t you want to be like?
The easiest way to be disgusted by your own negative behaviors is to see them in someone else.
Lousy leaders teach you things to not do. You always rise when you jettison the sandbags of negative behavior. Think of your worst boss and ask, “How am I like them?”
Go ahead, rage against that lousy boss. Make a list of their negative qualities. Record the things they do that you’ll never do. But most importantly, determine what you will do.
Reacting against bad is a delightful way to discover the good.
Who are you modeling your leadership after?
What qualities of a lousy boss do you strive to jettison?
I have been incredibly blessed to work for some very good leaders in my career. I don’t think I have ever had a bad boss. Yet, I can easily identify qualities in each of the leaders for whom I have worked that I want to avoid. It makes me curious what people would say about my leadership. What do they see in me that would make them say, “Yeah, he’s a good guy and an effective leader, but…”?
I have lived most of my life thinking imitation was a bad thing–we need to be original! This post is another time in a series of events over the last year where I have learned that imitation is the normal/proper/obvious way to learn many things–mainly because I have a 17-month old who imitates his parents as he learns to walk, talk, and wave hello at every stranger he sees. The idea of imitating a good role model’s leadership style is spot on. Find the qualities of a good leader and incorporate those into my life as a leader (and parent). I guess the next step beyond imitating is emulating. So that I don’t become a carbon copy of someone, I now understand better how to take those good qualities I find in others and make them my own, which makes me a more genuine, authentic person.
Thank you, Dan, for helping me learn that I don’t need to rediscover each little thing for myself. Life gives us a great shortcut if we examine the qualities of another and decide how we can use their actions and reactions to improve ourselves. Learn from the successes and failures of others.
To quote my husband, no one is a complete waste; they can always serve as a bad example. However, I think we sometimes undervalue those bad examples. Identifying who I want to imitate and who I do not want to imitate helps me figure out who I am.
Yes, it’s important to observe what the best and worst leaders say and do. But also, strive to understand the core beliefs and principles that back up or drive their behavior.
Establish your own set of guiding principles. Use these as the foundation of your leadership actions.
Learn from others but develop your own unique style of influencing and leading others.
You’re unique–how you express your leadership style should also be unique.
Keep in mind that parrots are fantastic imitators. However, they have no understanding whatsoever of what they are repeating and hence, tend not to be very helpful.