Man, as defined as a species, learns by doing; this principle of learning is best showcased by the poem “What man may learn, What man may do” penned by Robert Louis Stevenson. First, we see, and then we do; if “Imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery,” as proclaimed, then leaders are neither born nor made; thus, leaders are formed through the flattery of perception and emulation (Martin, 2012) [Emphasis Mine]. For example, a new recruit in the military, any military, learns how to be a leader by following, perceiving, and copying those placed above them. The same pattern is copied time and time again until the top of the leadership pile is obtained or until something drastic happens to the top rung, i.e., premature death, elections, and other influences. This theory of leadership evolution places the training of the leader squarely upon the individual aspiring to lead. The aspiring leader must choose whom to emulate, and in choosing, form decisions about why he chose that leader over another of equal or greater rank to emulate.
Emulation as a leadership theory places personality, emotional intelligence, preferred organizational culture and environment, and every other aspect of the leadership environment into the hands of the person aspiring to lead as choices of preference, while also removing excuses and leaving the leader fully responsible, accountable, and liable for the consequences. As a species, we not only mimic those we hold in esteem, we magnify them. Thus, a learner emulates certain behaviors and increases those behaviors (Coloroso, 2008). Just as a child is taught to hit by watching his parents beat each other and the child, the child will not only hit but also will not understand hitting is unacceptable and will increase violence past hitting to using weapons other than fists. The third generation of being taught hitting is acceptable generally moves to murder and incarceration. Upon emulation, magnification occurs, and patterns will continue until stopped.
More often than not, leadership through emulation theory is interconnected to spiritual leadership theory. Fry (2005) claims spiritual leadership theory “… was developed within an intrinsic motivation model that incorporates vision, hope/faith, and altruistic love, theories of workplace spirituality, and spiritual survival through calling and membership.” While Fry (2005) continues to justify this position, leadership through emulation remains a great-uncharted unknown or only researched through the bias of religious lenses and discounted. Yet, the great truth remains; humans learn through seeing and doing, and thus, leadership occurs through emulation and agency.
Religion is merely a set of beliefs and practices people adhere to voluntarily. The term spiritual discusses closely related character interests, attitudes, and outlooks. While not devoid of religion, spiritual leadership theory does not entirely apply to the reality of life with enough applicable strength to overcome individual zealots or the anti-religious zealotry found in many organizations. Many people do not realize that allowing religious freedom means accepting the term religion without feeling encumbered to onboard a religious theory. Fry (2003) expounds upon the spiritual leadership theory, and while this theory includes many aspects of corporate responsibility personally held dear, the reliance upon religion can be a hindrance for those followers who might choose to lead but remain anti-religious. Wren (1995) discusses leadership theories but focuses too much on a few while denigrating those not mentioned. By relying too heavily upon charismatic, transactional, and transformational leadership, Wren (1995) loses the forest grandeur by focusing on seeds, not that this diminishes seeds, but there is so much more to see and experience. The following leadership plan relies heavily upon what works and includes pieces of spiritual leadership for the active moral and ethical code, emulation leadership theory, and flexible thinking in organizational structure design. The result is a highly trained, experienced, effective leader, capable of creating success in many different industries, environments, and situations.
All successful leaders like Presidents Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, among others emulate moral fortitude and character as well as personal integrity to leadership principles and existence in productive work efforts. These leaders stood firm for core beliefs including truth, justice, mercy in the face of war, and built followers, who could then lead in difficult times and lead well. The primary chain linking all these leaders remains a single item: when faced with a decision, they acted with no hesitation, no spinelessness, and no hypocrisy. By choosing whom to emulate, in emulation leadership theory, the best can be onboared, magnified, and broadcast back into the organization forming a bulwark anchoring other people aspiring to become leaders. Brady (2005) discusses levels of influence in launching a leadership revolution. Part of the first level requires the aspiring leader to know the environment, history, basics of the organizational culture, and much more. The main point in the plan is to emulate the best, choose new principles to include, discover new ideas that work, and employ this knowledge in direct personalized solution. Due to the high amount of emotional intelligence inherent in the current employer organization, transactional and charismatic leadership are of limited functionality. Transformational leadership theory has more application but does not include many elements needed to enforce the plan or to achieve success. Leadership requires follow-on levels of influence that include preparation, desire, understanding the role of learning and adversaries, loving people, and developing people, who will choose to develop others. Of particular importance is the principle of loyal opposition, also known as a courageous follower. Building upon Chaleff’s (1995) discussion about the “Courageous follower” becoming a courageous leader, who can influence change, lead-in difficulty, and conquer, it remains imperative for followers to become those they emulate or the entire period of training is not valued by followers (Yukl, 2006, p. 134-139).
Personal strengths include a vast repertoire of benchmarks, successes and failures, working knowledge of psychology, depth as being a follower in stressful situations, and the drive of a bloodhound to find and fix. Skills and talents under constant construction include communication, manners, modesty, and developing interpersonal skills between peers and current leaders without causing insult. Personal weaknesses include a distrust of followers leading to problems with the delegation of authority, a reluctance to allow failure in followers, and an own abhorrence to perform tasks a second time after a failure.
The leader currently in existence needs experience to improve as described by Brady (2005), Jossey-Bass (2003), and others. The leader imagined and envisioned for the future needs seasoning to become a reality; thus, allow yourself or your followers time to build into the leadership plan outlined. The gaps are minor, and the weaknesses cannot improve without more experience in handling complicated situations. In vague terms, the timeline might look something like this. Within the next year, advancement would be from customer care professional in fraud to a curriculum designer or teacher/trainer/coach of adults for the current employer. Within the next three years, or by the conclusion of an academic degree program, advancement would be from designer/coach/trainer into leading other coaches/designers. Within the next eight years, progress would be to a service delivery leader guiding leaders of other coaches/designers/trainers and eventually be advanced to a director of corporate training or vice president of training delivery and human resources. Keeping this euphemistic plan on track requires sticking with a single employer, building a solid personal brand based upon successes, leveraging educational degrees while maximizing the previous experience and new experiences into solutions for the employer.
Recognizing that attitude, failures, and other people acting as variables on this plan requires communicating intent, working with people to convince them that end goals are attainable and the change needed to realize the end result. Until this plan launches, it remains imperative to exemplify Chaleff’s (1995) descriptions of a “Courageous follower.” This type of follower can emulate those in leadership positions while supporting the good and learning from current leadership mistakes. In a seamless transition, the “courageous follower” employs emulation theories of leadership and gains the advantage while building the needed personal brand and accomplishments and preparing for future leadership (Yukl, 2006, p. 134-139).
Avolio (2008), Brady (2005). Paine (1995), and Wren (1995) among others, discuss another aspect of being a good follower and future leader, liberty. America throughout history has provided excellent examples of what occurs when free people band into a society dedicated to liberty, freedom, and individuals empowered to choose their destiny. Being a courageous follower requires freedom of choice, and all future leaders, regardless of theories espoused, need to remember the power of freedom when leading. While some leadership writers discuss empowerment as a panacea term for everything from agency to low-level decision making, empowerment merely is freedom by a different name. Free followers are naturally empowered to choose, and with training, proper guidance, and organizational support choose with confidence. This is known as agency or the power to choose with responsibility and accountability for the consequences. Honing this power to choose wisely, while protecting the opportunity to succeed and fail, promotes a level of trust and commitment to current leaders that improve morale, lifts people, and builds robust organizations.
While less than bare bones in many aspects, the leadership plan described remains flexible enough for significant changes in future prospects while being detailed enough to fit into the current lifestyle of potential interested leaders. Experience has taught that detailed plans tend to force a locked down mentality in thinking, creating a box that hinders, hampers, and delays. While some details must be included, a delicate balance is preferred when dealing with the vicissitudes of life. Staying on track with this plan requires courage, fortitude, and emulation of the best and brightest to become a reality.
Avolio, B. J., & Yammarino, F. J. (2008). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead. Vol 2. Bingley, United Kingdom: JAI Press – Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Brady, C., & Woodward, O. (2005). Launching a leadership revolution: Mastering the five levels of influence. New York, NY: Business Plus – Hachette Book Group.
Coloroso, B. (2008). The bully, the bullied, and the bystander. (Living ed.) New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Fry, L. W. (2005). Positive psychology in business ethics and corporate responsibility. (pp. 47-83). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.iispiritualleadership.com/resources/publications.php
Jossey-Bass, R. (2003). Business leadership: A jossey-bass reader. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Martin, G. (2012). The phrase finder: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Retrieved from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery.html
Stevenson, R. L. (n.d.). What man may learn, what man may do. Retrieved from http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/stevenson/what_man_may_learn.html
Wren, J. T. (1995). The leader’s companion: Insights on leadership through the ages. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in Organizations. 6th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
© 2018 M. Dave Salisbury
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