The Power of Imitation

ImitationThey 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.

Look outside

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.

Your style

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?

David Reimer

Do you see the big picture?

big pictureAs you progress through your career you should begin to gain a broader and deeper perspective on the business attributes. It is important for you to look for, and understand, this broader and deeper perspective. This will help you have the right context for making and understanding decisions. Further, it will enable you to demonstrate leadership maturity. This will benefit you in your career growth.

I don’t see it!

Sometimes we observe leadership behaviour or decisions and they just don’t make sense. There are a few sets of behaviour and decision drivers;

  • External information or forces at play – the stuff that is outside the company. This could be a long term set up for merger or acquisition activity. It could be a planned response to competitive activity. It could also be bringing outside talent to influence the internal dynamics.
  • Cross division or departmental information or forces at play – this is typically managing resource allocations, moving staff for development purposes, setting for an internal structural change, responding to market forces by positioning for offense or defense.
  • Staff resource development – this is where you want to be as this action focused on grooming future leaders. Sometimes decisions regarding promotions that you observe, only make sense when viewed from this context.

Mind games

Once I learned the importance of seeing the big picture I started to play mind games. I would observe decisions made by executives and try to think through what would be good root causes to support those decisions. This mental exercise did two things for me; I developed my root cause thinking capability and I began to see a much broader and deeper picture of the business. These learnings became key attributes in my business success. Plus, they enabled me to earn quicker promotions. Further, over time, I became a capable contributor in the boardroom. I was on the same page as the executives which made me valuable.

Strategic thinking

The root of strategic thinking is to first see a broad and deep corporate picture. The second part is understanding what you are seeing. I will often go to a colleague or leader and ask questions like “What does this perspective of the business mean?” Or “I see this executive decision and I don’t understand why they did that, can you explain it to me?” This questioning mind lead me to be in conversations that were often above my pay grade. I became known for having an inquiring mind which is not a bad thing.

The alternative

Those who don’t see the big picture typically fall into a few categories;

  1. People who are content with their role and understand the value of their daily contribution.
  2. People who are discontented but aren’t up for the effort to change. This group is typically the first to complain and sow discontent.
  3. Those who just need to be cookie crumbed into seeing the broader and deeper view.

As leaders, or potential leaders, we need to understand the different behaviours related to the larger view.

Getting on with it

I would encourage you to develop the habit of asking questions that will help reveal the bigger picture. Questions that will help you understand the attributes of the bigger picture. Questions that reveal motivations for decisions. This will all help you create an informed view.

What questions do you have? What picture do you see?

David Reimer


Promotable Attitude

positive attitudeDo you have a promotable attitude? A fact of business life is that your attitude is often far more important than your skill level. High skills coupled with a poor life outlook or being a poor team player can be a toxic combination to business success.

Conversely, someone with a winning attitude and a willingness to learn is viewed by executives as a valued resource. I would promote the good attitude and a willingness to learn over good skills and a poor attitude every time. Why? Because an attitude, good or bad, is contagious. Seeding a team or business with a good attitude is a real benefit to the business. Poisoning a team or business with a poor attitude can do serious harm to motivation and goal achievement.

What is Attitude

A job attitude is a set of evaluations of one’s job that constitute one’s feelings toward, beliefs about, and attachment to one’s job. More often than not, attitude is rooted in your mind. And you can change your attitude. It’s not something to which you are hard wired. Even the worst of situations will seem to improve if your attitude towards it changes.

A negative one

Here is a list of some bad attitudes[i]. How do you compare?

  • Negative comparisons of others
  • Negative assumptions
  • Self-defeating talk
  • Negative reviews of the past
  • Disempowering beliefs about difficult people
  • The desire to blame
  • The fear of failure and making mistakes
  • Showing jealousy / envy
  • Being pessimistic
  • Being selfish
  • Being mean / thoughtless / tactless

The point is this. Most executives have little or no interest in assigning more responsibility or authority to someone who behaves like this.

A good one

Here’s the contrast for you. This is a good list[ii] for you to model!

  • Looking adversity in the eye… and laughing
  • Motivating those around you with a positive word
  • Using the power of a smile to reverse a situation
  • Getting back up when you fall down
  • Having a good time even when you are losing
  • Being happy for someone else’s success
  • Telling someone you know that they did a great job
  • Being a source of energy that lifts those around you

Sometimes it’s harder to have a good attitude because it often means not being focused on yourself.

The benefit

I was an up and coming product manager when I was promoted to director of a division. The promotion was announced to the company. Several weeks later the decision was reversed. The President came to me and said there was an unexpected turn of events that was part of something bigger. Not about me, but I had to take the hit. A tough situation, but I determined that the role would be mine in time so I sucked it up and carried on.

Eight months later the President came to me and complimented me on how I managed the situation and my good attitude. I was promoted to director, the youngest in a company with 60 subsidiaries worldwide, and went on to work on an international product planning committee. I won because I had a good attitude, a long term view, and a commitment to excellence.

Don’t ever underestimate the benefit of having a positive attitude. It could be a game changer for you. Often in a tight promotion competition the swing vote will come down to attitude – a positive one.

The ball is in your court

How is your attitude? How about your team’s overall attitude? You can change yours and by influence change those around you.

David Reimer

[i] 8 Negative Attitudes of Chronically Unhappy People, Preston Ni. / Yahoo answers



GovernanceThis is a complex topic. The vast majority of people in business do not truly understand what governance is. First off, governance is NOT just for board members or senior executives. We should all have a basic working knowledge of governance. Second, anytime a group of people gather to achieve a common goal, governance is required. That sounds a lot like a team, a department, or a division. Therefore, governance is important to all of us.

What is it?

There are three key aspects of governance that work together to provide true governance.

  1. Authority
  2. Decision-making
  3. Accountability

You cannot have one or two of these aspects without the other(s). Good governance depends on having all three elements working together in lock-step. This ensures that there is an appropriate set of checks and balances. When you think about it, all of us are participating in governance every day.

Why do you need to know this?

Governance determines who has power. In your business role who has the power? What power do you have? Can you describe it succinctly? You should.

Governance determines who makes decisions based on their power or authority. This includes who has that authority and how or when they delegate it.

An interesting aspect of governance that is often overlooked is how participants in the group or team have their voices heard. This is important. Do you ensure that your staff have a way to really have their voices heard? Is your voice heard?

Lastly is accountability. I am always surprised when someone tries to get out from under accountability. Why do that? With my clients, and when I was an employee, I always sought to ensure that I had accountability. It is counterculture but accountability is freeing. I know my authority level and I know what I own, but often more importantly, I know what I don’t own. This knowledge of owning and not owning ensures that I am focused on the right things. Further, I know what I’m accountable for and therefore I can use the full breadth and depth of my authority with clarity.

Price of entry

If you can demonstrate a working knowledge of governance in your current role you will likely distinguish yourself from the crowd. That’s because governance is part of the price of entry to senior roles. A sustained winning leader knows governance. A poor leader with a meager knowledge of governance will likely only have short term success. If you think about the spectacular examples of business leadership failure you will see at the root a governance failure in authority use, poor decision making, or lack of accountability.

You need to learn more about this

A great resource for learning more about governance is the Institute on Governance. It would be worth your while to spend some time browsing this site.

One of the best ways to learn about governance, assuming you understand the mechanics of governance, is to observe. Watch those above, around, and below you to see how they manage governance. Do they know what it is? How do they model governance behaviour? I’ll bet that the vast majority of the time you will see how not to govern. That’s ok, observing how not to do something is often a better learning experience.

What are you going to do to understand and use governance in your daily work?

David Reimer


Meeting Protocols

meeting3.pngThe highest cost for most companies is their labour costs. And the highest labour waste is generally meetings. Do the math. Think about the number of meetings and the number of people and their annual incomes. It becomes a big number.

The other side of meetings is the staff behaviour in and around meetings. All too often a few people cause a lot of time waste and unproductive outcomes. Meetings should be high output events. Are yours?

The basics

A meeting should be about planning work, not doing work. You should be gathering to discuss what has been accomplished and what needs to be accomplished. The mechanics of this mean;

  1. Everyone should have material ahead of the meeting to review prior to the meeting. In meeting reviews are wasteful.
  2. Everyone should be focused on planning the next steps or efforts when in a meeting. Not doing the work in the meeting.
  3. Collaboration in the form of a group discussion is great for brain storming and shaping planning efforts. But group creation of documents or presentations is ultra-inefficient.

The sacrificial lamb

In the knowledge worker environment, we often focus on the creation of documents of every type. This leads to the “meeting” based creation process which is often not helpful. A much better way is to have an individual create a first draft. Then everyone gets to read it, get their creative juices going, and throw stones at it! The first draft author is the sacrificial lamb as they bear the brunt of that first round of criticism. But the benefit is a fast cycle time to a good group outcome by framing the start document.

Meetings 101

Here is a list of protocols that you should live by.

  • Have an agenda
  • Start on time / arrive on time. Don’t wait for laggards – you just reinforce their behaviour.
  • Expect that everyone has done their pre reading. Don’t review just for one person who did not.
  • Hold to your agenda
  • Assign tasks for next meetings
  • End on time

Running meetings and good meeting attendance protocols are great training grounds for future executive roles. The higher you go; the more meetings you will attend. Mastering the art of meetings now will really benefit you later on.

There is great meeting management material to be had at Check it out and run better meetings!

What are your meeting horror stories? When have your observed a great meeting being led? Why?

David Reimer