#33 – Originality

Doing a bad imitation of yourself is always better than doing a great imitation of someone else.

A “bad” imitation? Yes, as in you are still coming into your own. You are still discovering your point of view, clarifying your values, finding confidence in your strengths, getting comfortable with feedback, learning how to stand by your work at the same time you are learning how to recover from mistakes.

In the midst of all of that developmental messiness there is the potential to experience deep feelings of insecurity. There is the potential for the belief to take hold that who you are in a less confident, less composed, less fully formed state is not suitable for public viewing and should, as a result, be shelved in favor of showing up like someone else.

There is value in imitation, of course. I have heard many professionals, artists and engineers alike, describe their earliest efforts as attempts to copy the work of their role-models, those role-models providing the high-water mark of their burgeoning aspiration. At some point, however, whether you’re an artist, an engineer, a politician or an athlete, must discover and cultivate an original voice.

This is a progressive, iterative process. There is no flip of a switch. And because that is so, my vote is to get started when the clay is still soft. That is to say, to not allow the myths of “readiness” or “maturity” or “age appropriateness” get in the way of the expression of who you are right now.

Everyone looks back on their early work with one eye closed, a little sheepish and  critical. That’s who you were then. And because of that, you have become what you are now.

No substitutes. No imitations.

This is #33 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Perhaps one more?


woman covering her face

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On whose example do you model your leadership?

A writer I admire said that the way to find one’s own voice as a writer is to imitate other writers. He said that by imitating them you allow yourself to write more freely because you have a model to follow rather than feeling the pressure to be an original voice. Because, of course, you can’t be those other writers but can only do a faint and probably poor imitation, what will begin to emerge is a version of the style you admire which you can practice and refine over time into one that is your own.

I had a similar discussion once with a mentor of mine who said in a discussion of leadership principles that “everything is derivative”; that we are always interpreting and reinterpreting the work, ideas and perspectives of the teachers who have come before us, those we have chosen to turn to as models for how to live, work and lead.

Again there is freedom is this thinking because it grants permission to build on the work of others – to stand on the shoulders of giants – instead of having to start out as giants ourselves.

If modeling is the path to leadership mastery, if it is the means by which you can ultimately claim your leadership “voice,” then there is one question you must answer as capably and responsibly as you can: on whose example do you model your leadership?


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.