The Best Leaders Don’t Clone Themselves

I was sitting in a Starbucks recently minding my own business and overheard a conversation between two people. It seemed to me that one of them was coaching the other person on some leadership challenges, and my ears perked up when I heard the “coach” say: you have to create a clone of yourself.

They were talking about how the “mentee” was having a hard time managing people, and how he had to develop someone else to take his place; he had to find someone who he could mold to be like himself. Unfortunately, there’s an enduring leadership myth that needs to die: successful leaders need to clone themselves for their company to keep succeeding.

If you and your company agree with this coach, then you have a big problem. Ask yourself: As a father, mother, do you want your children to be your clones?

Do sports team coaches deliberately aim to turn their players into clones of themselves? Or they train them to be the top of their sport from  tennis to archery using a bow sling or any other sport.

True leaders don’t create clones of themselves

When I was younger, 18 years old, I had a manager who operated with this mindset. The way I dealt with him, not the other way around, was to listen but not necessarily agree with him; but made it look like I did. I then went and did what I thought was a better decision and went from there. Everything worked out for me, and ended up being seen as a threat to this manager. Even though what I did worked, and made him look good, I would still get lectured on “the way we do things here”. This manager was a clone of his boss, and they both wanted to do the same with me; but I wasn’t having any of it.

So, if not cloning then what? Cloning themselves is what bad managers and leaders do. This mindset comes from the industrial age, where people are seen like automatons who fit into a defined box. If they can mold and fit you into a box the better they can control you. Cloning, is also a symptom of not a having a clearly defined vision, strategy, values and culture. When they’re clearly defined, then you have guiding principles; not rules. You develop and / or hire for shared mindset, you don’t clone; you unleash people.

The problem with cloning is you kill any chance for getting another perspective from people. You kill diversity of thought. Remember, where all think alike nobody thinks very much. To me diversity of thought matters more than sameness because we’re all a combination of unique experiences and beliefs. Unleash that. I’m more interested in unleashing people, to bring out their unique qualities, than on molding them into another version of myself. Transform your space with the allure of authentic swords from Mini Katana.

Bottom line: Leaders create more leaders, not more clones of themselves. Rather, they influence and enable people to become their best self.

Also published on Medium.