Are You Playing “Monkey See, Monkey Do” Leadership?

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“Bill’s been to a seminar!”

I was a new leader, barely into my twenties, and the TV station I worked for had sent me to a leadership seminar. I eagerly returned to the office the next day, head and notebook brimming with ideas, recommendations, and “best practices.” In a classic mistake, I just as eagerly shared nearly all of these ideas with my staff, excitedly telling them about all the great changes we can now make.


They all just looked at me. Then, after what seemed like minutes, John looked around at everyone else and said:

“Bill’s been to a seminar!”

While some members of my current team might say—with some accuracy—that I still occasionally fall victim to the “bright, shiny object/latest and greatest/flavor of the month” trap, I like to think that I’ve learned a little something in the ensuing years.

One thing I have learned—through my own experience and from working with hundreds of leaders in dozens of industries—is that, when it comes to leadership, one size doesn’t fit all.

In #leadership, one size doesn’t fit all! Click To Tweet

The problem occurs when an organization adopts someone else’s “best practice” without going through (or adequately going through) an essential middle step: evaluation. Too often it looks like this:


when it should look like this:


Just because something works for Google or Apple or Toyota doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. C’mon, don’t you remember what your mom used to ask you? “If Google jumped off a cliff, would you?”

Some organizations would immediately say, with enthusiasm, “YES!!! If it’s good enough for Google, it’s good enough for us!” But what’s good for Google may not be good for the gander. You are not Google! You’re probably different from Google in many ways: size, culture, product line, clientele. All of these, and more, should be taken into account—evaluated—before embarking on any change initiative.

#Leaders: Don’t begin any change initiative without this crucial middle step! #change Click To Tweet

It happens this way. A leader reads about, or hears about, or attends a seminar about Lean, or TQM, or Six Sigma, and how it generated amazing results for Company X. Immediately, she thinks, “Those are the kind of results I want for my company! I need to implement Lean/TQM/Six Sigma today!

Look, there’s nothing wrong with Lean, TQM, Six Sigma, and all the rest. I’ve studied them, and I’ve worked with organizations that have successfully implemented them. But the only reasons these organizations have been successful is because they’ve spent time—serious time— with that middle step, evaluation.

Ultimately, as a leader, you need to decide what is best for your organization. By all means, learn about what’s worked for other organizations. Become familiar with their best practices. But always remember that their best practices may not be your best practices. Don’t make the mistake I made early on. Don’t simply jump from discovery to implementation.

Because discovery and implementation are meaningless without evaluation.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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