How do you learn and grow? You mimic the people around you. Since you were a little child you observed the people around you and tried to mimic their behavior. You saw your mother speak on the phone so when she finished you went, picked up the phone yourself and started mumbling into it as that is what your mum did. You saw your grandfather read newspapers so you took them and started pretending to read it exactly as your grandpa did. You were faking it, until you were actually able to read yourself or to be able dial a real number and actually talk to your friend over the phone.
Remember your first job?
You were a bit shaky and clumsy. You watched how others around you are dealing with a particular tasks, you tried several approaches until you figured out a way that works for you. If you had no one around you to learn from it probably took you several attempts to get things right. If you had a mentor it was most likely way easier to get the job done and get confident doing it. Why? Because you could mimic approach taken by someone else.
First time being a manager?
When you got your first formal leadership or management position you were suddenly faced with a whole new world of problems and challenges. Suddenly you were not responsible for yourself only but for lots of other people who looked up to you for guidance, mentorship, help. You were most likely wondering whether you are ready, you were not particularly confident and it was visible also to the team. I talked about some of the fears in 6 Fears Of Leadership.
So what do you do in this case? You are humble, willing to admit you don’t know everything but at the same time you exude confidence that you will figure it out quickly. You find a great mentor or at least look around what other leaders are doing and you do the same. It will feel awkward at the beginning but eventually your will learn and build your own unique style.
One of the top characteristics of a good leader (at least in a Western world) is authenticity. Being authentic is highly valued as it makes you more human, more accessible for your team and helps you build better rapport with people around you. The problem with this is that when you are pushed to a new role that requires different approach to dealing with problems you need to change and for some time you will feel (and others will most likely see it too) that “it is not me”. This is just ok and it happens all the time when you are getting to more senior leadership positions. Expectations and the job description are simply changing and you need to. I would suggest to be rather open about it when approached by someone who feels you are changing and explain why you do some things differently now. The one thing you need to stay true to are your core values. As long as these are untouched you can mimic others.
Be a chameleon while being yourself
Not particularly useful advice, huh? So what does it mean? It means finding the right balance between being able to admit that there are things you don’t know, learn fast by observing others, while appearing to be in control and knowing what you are doing.
A good way to tackle this is to follow these three basic steps:
- Observe the world around you. Look at others who excel at a particular skill, or are successful at the particular job. Watch, listen, ask, and try to understand all the details and reasons why their particular approach works
- Mimic what you see. Don’t be afraid to try to behave the same way. It will most likely feel awkward at first but if you persist you will get better and better and develop the new skills or styles of work
- Internalize to make it part of yourself. This is where you are getting back to yourself. You take the skill you learned and make it part of your repertoire. You will adapt the approach to performing that particular task in such a way that it fits your overall style. You already know how to do it, you just need to tweak it so you are comfortable doing it and it will become part of you. Now you are authentic again.
The next time you are faced with a new and challenging task that stretches your abilities and requires a new approach look around how others has dealt with it… and be a chameleon.
How do you deal with new situations? If you are in a leadership position and being faced by tasks you have never done how do you approach it? How do you lead people and have the confidence to inspire them when you’ve never done it before?
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