My dad was injured in the Korean War, a few years before I was born. As a result of that injury, he walks with a limp. As a young boy, I unconsciously emulated him. I just thought that was the way grown men walked.
When I was about three or four, I remember my Mom saying to me, “Michael, you don’t need to walk with a limp. Dad walks that way because he was hurt in the war.” Regardless, I still walked with a limp for another year or so, simply because I wanted to be like my dad.
This was the “law of replication” in action. This law says that like begets like. Dogs beget dogs. Trees beget trees. And people beget people.
This law also applies to leadership. Like it or not, you will replicate yourself. Your followers will adopt your behaviors, habits, and—if you have a strong personality— even your mannerisms.
Years ago, I remember visiting one of our clients at his corporate headquarters. I was amused to see his staff imitating him, down to the cadence of his speech and the inflection of his voice. It was as if they were paid impersonators.
This has powerful implications for leadership. Unconsciously, your people will mimic you. This means:
- If you are late to meetings, your people will be late to meetings.
- If you don’t take notes in meetings, your people won’t take notes in meetings.
- If you are angry and defensive when you get negative feedback, your people will be angry and defensive when they get negative feedback.
- If you are humble and grateful, your people will be humble and grateful.
- If you are warm and engaging, your people will be warm and engaging.
- If you are even-tempered and unflinching under fire, your people will be even-tempered and unflinching under fire.
Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I would add, “Be the change you want to see in your organization.” If you don’t like the culture of your department, division, or company, start by changing yourself. Set a new standard. Let your word become flesh. This is the most powerful thing you can do to change your world.
The bottom line is that you are the prototype for your followers. Your actions speak louder than words. You must pay careful attention to your own behavior. You are a living example of what it takes to go to the next level. You will replicate yourself.
Question: If your people imitated you in everything you do, would you be happy with their performance?