They say that imitation is the best form of flattery. Not all the time!
Who are you imitating? And you are imitating someone, consciously or not. Sometimes more importantly, who is imitating you? Imitation is a wonderful way to learn. Watching someone’s behaviour, language, style, and faults all provide a rich understanding of what works and what does not work. Senior executives are often reading and learning from other leaders. Why? They recognize that leadership is a learned behaviour. They know that they can change their style or language or behaviour. Imitation is one of the best ways to learn.
What it is and how to look at it
Imitation is an automatic behaviour that we unconsciously engage in, whether we like it or not. Imitation becomes an advanced behavior when an individual consciously observes and learns what to replicate and what to not replicate in another’s behavior.
It is critical that you understand that imitation cuts both ways; what to learn and what not to learn. I firmly believe that the majority of the time we observe how not to do something. Therefore, you should be sensitive to what you are imitating – good or bad behaviour. You should be consciously assessing who and what you are imitating. This is a learned skill just like leadership.
Who to imitate
Find peers, leaders, and executives who you believe are worthy of imitating. Learn from their behaviour and try to replicate their positive business skills and character qualities. The goal is to develop your leadership skills so this should be the context of your activity.
Another key element of imitation for learning is to find people outside your organization who represent a strong learning value for you. This is typically found in reading articles, books, and business sections of the newspaper. Another good source is vendor and customer relationships. External influence is critical in creating a well-rounded leader. Developing as a leader within a single organization is helpful but can be constraining to your thinking.
Imitation does not mean that you have to surrender your own personal style – unless your style is juvenile and needs to be improved. Imitation, in a business context, is about learning approaches, language, and specific business skills all of which will improve your thinking and understanding of business situations. However, you still need to be true to your personality strengths and retain your identity.
Try before you buy
Once you have identified a skill in another person try it on for size. Use that skill in the next meeting, modify it until it works and fits for you. The benefits of conscious imitation are that you can play with skills and figure out how to make them your own. This is an important point as this is how you retain your sense of genuine presence and therefore credibility.
Who do you imitate? What have you learned from this process?