In business, there's something to be said about learning from your rivals and mimicking what they do well (not to be confused with outright design or process theft). And leaders often apply that same model to themselves.
Tim Cook gets up at 4:00 a.m.? I will, too!
Richard Branson is wonderfully charismatic! I'll hone that trait, too!
Joe Schmoe talks to everybody! I'll chat more, too!
But there's a problem here. Both employees and customers now demand authenticity as part of the leadership package. And while it's often sensible in design or operations to incrementally build on what others have done and make it your own, which arguably is all innovation really is, you cannot duplicate the personality of someone else without sacrificing some of your own real self. It's a devil's trade that is extremely difficult to reverse.
No one understood this better than legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, who still inspires people from all backgrounds and industries to greater discipline and internal power.
"When I look around," Lee said, "I always learn something, and that is to be yourself always. Express yourself and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it. Start from the root of your being and ask, how can I be me?"
This is the heart of the leader's true quest--to seek growth that releases and makes you more comfortable with your uniqueness.
What makes the quest so incredibly powerful and magical is that, when you engage in this behavior and people see you being uniquely you, they feel safer because they know you're not going to follow any whim that blows in the wind. They realize that you haven't been crushed for sharing who you really are and are reassured by it, and so they trust you and get inspired to share who they really are, too. And so they become more willing to say what they think and share wild concepts without fear of negative judgment.
Be ruthlessly clear about that connection. Your willingness to discover and share who you are, has a direct influence on how comfortable others are to bring innovation to the table.
So respect what defines others. But look in even more than you look out, and never let the shiny entrepreneur on the other side of the room distract you from your own personal integrity.