People See, People Do

My dad was injured in the Korean War, a few years before I was born. Because of that injury, he walks with a limp to this day. As a young boy, I unconsciously emulated him. I just thought that was the way grown men walked.

When I was three or four, I remember 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.” I still walked that way for another year or so, simply because I wanted to be like my dad.

Law, in replicate

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. If you are a leader, like it or not, you will replicate yourself. Your followers will adopt your behaviors and habits. If you have a strong personality, they may even mimic your mannerisms without meaning to do so because of the human brain’s mirror system. The same goes for vision. If you are clear and communicate about your vision, you’ll develop leaders who do the same.

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.

You set the tone

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 consistently don’t follow through, your people will also lack follow through.
  • If you are angry and defensive when you get negative feedback, your people will be angry and defensive when they get negative feedback.

That’s bad news. Fortunately, they will copy your good behaviors too. This means:

  • 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 strive to be even-tempered and unflinching under fire.

Be the change

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. This is the most powerful thing you can…

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