Weekender: Can You “Ape” Yourself Into Becoming a Better Leader?

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Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a spritz of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a spritz (versus the whole bottle)? Because it’s the weekend!

I read a story last week in Rolling Stone magazine about a college professor who will be spending the next year dressing up like David Bowie in an attempt to better understand his rock star idol. If you are going to pick someone to emulate, David Bowie is a solid choice. Who else has 356 distinct looks that can fill the year? But do you really need to copy your heroes in order to learn from them?

The idea is to inhabit Bowie’s headspace at points in his life and career to understand his work from an original angle, while retaining a critical and objective perspective at the same time. – Will Brooker, film and cultural studies professor at Kingston University

It is not uncommon to mimic those we admire. We can’t help but observe their behaviors, traits, and appearance and then “try them on” to see how it feels. This is a normal part of learning and development. Also, as research shows, the more time you spend with someone, the more likely you are to subtly mirror their vocal pitch, eye contact, gestures, and other nonverbal characteristics.

Mimicry is a crucial part of social intelligence, but it is not enough to simply know how to mimic. It’s also important to know when and when not to. – Piotr Winkielman, a professor of psychology at the University of California

The key is to understand the differences between experimenting with their individualisms and hijacking them. We do not want to become mini-me’s. Imitation may be considered the highest form of flattery, but that only goes so far. At some point, we need to make it our own. Otherwise, we risk appearing insincere or, even worse, losing who we are or, ever worse than that, wearing a Ziggy Stardust outfit to the office.

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