Expert Resources

The Trap Of Copycat Leadership

In a recent prank filmed for the BBC, the singer Adele donned a disguise and pretended to impersonate herself in front of a group of other Adele impersonators. As ‘Jenny’ she wore a prosthetic nose and chin, gloves to cover up her distinctive tattoos, applied some make up magic and changed the way she spoke.

Carol Yang

‘Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You’ – Dr Seuss

In a recent prank filmed for the BBC, the singer Adele donned a disguise and pretended to impersonate herself in front of a group of other Adele impersonators. As ‘Jenny’ she wore a prosthetic nose and chin, gloves to cover up her distinctive tattoos, applied some make up magic and changed the way she spoke.

She then spent time pre audition interacting with the other impersonators where no one suspected who she really was. Until that is, it was her moment to sing. As one of the impersonators later commented: “As soon as she opened her mouth you could just tell…. You can’t mimic like that”. Her unique voice, range and style simply shone through. There was no mistaking that it was the ‘real’ Adele on stage despite the lengths she had gone to to hide her outward appearance. Whilst the other impersonators clearly all had talent they didn’t come close to owning the stage in the same way Adele did.

Recently I have been working with a number of newly appointed leaders, all who have a long list of signature achievements behind them and who are keen to make their mark in their new role. Interestingly many of them are spending considerable time looking at other people within their business or network to model their style, behaviour and approach on. Whilst there is certainly nothing wrong with recognising the great style and achievements in others, we do need to exercise some caution to not simply become a mimic or copycat. For when we do, we somehow seem to lack the soul, conviction and substance to lead effectively.

Effective leadership requires more than simply tracing the steps of those role models we regard as successful. If you were to think about the great leaders you have worked for in the past invariably they were leading businesses to new levels of growth, breaking into new markets or holding market share during times when everyone else was going backwards. They were bringing people and talents together to reach new levels of performance and they weren’t doing this by simply copying what everyone else around them was doing.

In their highly successful book ‘The Leadership Challenge’ Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner very aptly note: ‘ If you can’t find your own voice, you’ll end up with a vocabulary that belongs to someone else, mouthing words that were written by some speechwriter or mimicking the language of some other leader who’s nothing like you at all.

If the words you speak are not your words but someone else’s, you will not in the long term be able to be consistent in word and deed. You will not have the integrity to lead.’

Copycat behaviour is ultimately both self limiting and unsustainable. Whilst we can definitely learn from those around us, we ultimately need to make it relevant to our own teams and business agendas. Failing to find our own voice and style risks us as being kept small and perceived as disingenuous or lacking in confidence and/or capability to do what we were appointed to do.

Truly successful leaders have achieved their success by distilling their own core values, experiences and learnings and matching it with environments that embrace these attributes. Combined with a very strong and clear understanding about what it is they need to do and deliver to be successful they have learnt to master the art of really ‘showing up’ with authenticity and purpose.

I would encourage you to also think about the following 6 behaviours that highly successful leaders use to ensure they are leading from their own sense of strength and purpose:

Align Your Values With Your Organisation’s: Aligning your values with those of the business and the people you work with and for is what will allow your own strengths and style to be at the forefront.

Embrace Vulnerability: To confidently embrace our own leadership style – to really show up and be seen – requires vulnerability. It means leaving your ego at the door, being comfortable with not having all the answers and being ready to embrace different opinions, perspectives and ways of doing things when there are no guarantees.

Hire Complimentary Skillsets: Our strength lies in our differences and not in our similarities. One of the greatest mistakes leaders make is employing like for like when what we really need is diversity of styles, skills, knowledge and insights.

Avoid The Comparison Game: Comparison is the thief of joy. Not only is it damaging to your self-confidence but all too often what you are comparing yourself against is does nothing to support you discover your own style.

Be Curious: Ask questions and lots of them. Seeking to broaden your understanding and knowledge of people and your market will open up new opportunities and insights and move you out of the status quo mindset.

Throw Away The Cookie Cutter: For growth, innovation and competitive advantage to occur we need to invest in discovering our own strengths as individuals and continually seek out new ways of doing things whilst remaining relevant to our cause.

Learning how to own your ‘own stage’ and discover what your unmistakable style is that sets you apart is in many ways a journey of discovery. As long as we continue to operate in a business climate of volatility, uncertainty, change and uncertainty the need for unique leadership will not cease.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

For those of you who are interested in checking out Adele’s unmistakable style you can click here

Margot – The Career Diplomat                        

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