Developing Your Leadership Is About Speculation, Not Emulation

Leadership Lesson: Learning leadership is not about copying behaviors, attributes, and approaches but instead about understanding the experiences we share with our leaders that can drive the same approach.

Leadership is a learning process. There’s no one magic bullet that is going to instill anyone with all the attributes, behaviors, and attitudes that are the right balance to shape the perfect leader.

The learning process can begin with books and theories but it carries over to, and is more refined by, what we see and seek out in our own environments. There are admirable leaders all around us from which we can learn.

This leadership learning process can take place within the workplace while we work through the technical skill which makes up our field and industry, watching those around us. But we can also learn the leadership of how to encourage, influence, and impact others in other various ways outside of the workplace in our personal lives.

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So when it comes to your own leadership development, don’t merely react to what’s in front of you. Be proactive in what you can deliver. When it comes to leadership: don’t emulate, speculate.

You can take someone’s leadership as an example to learn from and to inspire you. You can even glean components of that person’s approach which might be similar to your own characteristics, habits, background, etc., becoming inspired to draw out and refine those common attributes you might share.

But don’t try to clone someone’s approach to try and make it work for you. No matter how successful a person might seem in their leadership, whether in an official capacity or not, there is no way to emulate or copy what it is they are delivering to others in their approach.

None at all.

Emulation doesn’t work and here are three reasons why:

1. Drivers Behind a Leader’s Actions

Leadership isn’t only about what you see – the steps that a leader takes, the words that a leader uses, and the ideas that a leader expresses. Much more than that, it’s about the energy behind these actions and many others which leaders carry out.

Leadership exists not only in the façade of what is seen, but also in the level of energy behind it to make it effective. That energy consists of a leader’s passion, determination, and conviction. These are the driving forces behind the message.

You can’t quantify leadership, dedication, commitment, investment, etc., in order to replicate them. You can observe whether or not a person has a low-level or a high-level of each of those, but to tap into the right level for each attribute and then try to recreate the right combination across various attributes to get to a leader’s final delivery in their day-to-day — it can’t be done.

These drivers feed the leader’s delivery and the delivery of the ideas, concepts, and advice of a leader is often more infectious than the ideas themselves. It is the energy and drive that we utilize in our actions and approaches which make both us and our delivery unique.

2. You Don’t Share the Priority Level

It is not only that you might not be able to carry out an effort with the same energy, vibrato, or urgency as someone else, but you may not feel as strongly as someone else feels about certain drivers. So, first, as mentioned in the previous bullet, you may not have the strength they have to push it forward and, second, you may not even care that much at the very basic level, which then weakens your delivery.

How someone feels is how they deliver leadership. You can’t imitate how someone feels. No matter how much they might tell you, there’s just no way to read, capture, and translate every ounce of how someone feels about and understands something, much less recreate it, especially when it comes to leadership.

If something isn’t a true priority for you, it will come through as such.

3. Genuineness Perceived By Others

Even if you were to try and emulate someone’s leadership to others so that they see a façade which is similar, you will know that you don’t share that exact level or combination of those experiences. You will know you are lying to yourself and it will catch up with you.

Those around you will also be able to spot a permeable shell of attempted genuineness. One doesn’t need a trained eye to spot when someone else is not being themselves or lacking conviction in what they are doing or saying.

And what is worse than poor or absent leadership? The intention to deceive with disingenuous actions and intentions. That type of deception insults others’ intelligence and disintegrates their respect for, and loyalty to, the leader.

Speculation is Key

Instead of trying to imitate the actions of a leader, it is better to try and understand where the drive behind those actions comes from.

When considering what makes up a leader’s drive, think about what it is that makes up a leader. What have been their life experiences – both good and bad? In that same kind of analysis – considering the good and bad – what have been their technical experiences? Job experiences? Educational experiences? Personal experiences?

All these experiences are what drives a leader’s message. And, again, it isn’t so much the message of the leader that is eye-catching, but the energy and fervor, or lack thereof, with which they carry out their mission. That energy and fervor is based on their time living through those previously-mentioned experiences. So, there is just no way that you are going to deliver leadership in the same fashion because you didn’t have those same types and combinations of experiences.

Consider what their experiences have been and then look at your own backstory to determine where in your past you can draw similar inspiration from.

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To learn those backstories, watch your leader, question your leader, and ask your leader. But never try and copy your leader.

So, speculate about your leader. “Speculate” actually means “to form a theory or conjecture about a subject without firm evidence.” So, wonder about your leader. From what you know of them, what do you believe got them to such a point to make a great impact in their lives and the lives of others?

Reasonable speculation of others and their pasts as it relates to their current status is being curious. And curiosity is learning. There is nothing wrong with continued learning. You don’t have to be in a classroom in order to continue learning, assessing, and analyzing your environment.

It’s even more important to do it outside of the classroom as the environment outside of your classroom is your own, first-hand environment, life, and real world. The classroom might provide the theoretical teachings based on someone else’s real-world experience. But in your own life, that is your own real world from which to learn.

Furthermore, beyond speculation, you might be able to ask the leader where they get their drive and which factors have shaped their approach to your common environment. The interesting thing is that sometimes a leader will not think about those things until there’s an inquiry. They’ve gone through their life, making their ways through experiences, understanding what is important to them, but very rarely do they actually consider what pieces from their past shaped them into who they are today.

Savor that opportunity. Don’t squander it.

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Life is too short to try to live someone else’s life. If you’re focusing too much on copying someone else’s style in anything – field, demeanor, professionalism – you’re missing out on the opportunity to bring your own unique style and original way of thinking into the world around you, and the world around you is missing out on your interpretation of things.

So, your approach will take some refinement. That’s ok.

So, you feel like you don’t have the experience you need to make the same impact. No worries.

Everyone is a work-in-progress. No one figured out their style or life’s calling overnight. It takes time to assess what you’re capable of and how you’re going to share it with others.

The important part is to get started and make a concerted effort to do so.

If your first inclination before reading this was to emulate someone’s style, that’s good and bad.

It’s bad because you should establish and demonstrate your own ability, leaving your own reputation and legacy in your wake, as outlined here.

But it’s also good because it demonstrates that at some level you want to be remembered or stand out. Each person has their own reasons for doing so, but you know you want to make an impact.

That’s your overarching goal – to make an impact and a difference. Now that the goal is set, make sure the course to get there is both clear and your own.

Don’t seek to copy a leader’s image as if you were their mirror. Look for the possibilities in your own reflection.

So…What About You?

  • How have you tried to emulate leaders you’ve worked with? How did it work out?
  • Were you able to speculate to effective results in having heard a leader’s history or thought process?
  • How much of your leadership is based on studying your real-world examples versus other sources of knowledge?

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