One of my Influencer Academy women wrote me the most exquisite thank you note this week. In it she talked about the impact the program has made on her and called me her role model.
And I gasped. For I immediately worried that this was the beginning of her losing the voice she was finally owning and using in a big way.
It’s vital we surround ourselves with people who inspire and stretch us–who live the kind of life and behave in their work the way we aspire to. And at the same time, the moment we identify someone as performing that kind of role for us, we’re in danger.
One of the first people in my professional life I branded a role model was the director of the professional development program I was managing at the time. Her facilitation style was dreamy. She knew how to take a room from 0 to 100 in a matter of minutes. When she spoke, people–even the most apathetic young people–sat at the edges of their chairs and listened. And when she asked questions, you could see people’s eyes roll back–in a good way–as they went deep inside themselves to think and churn possible answers around.
The problem was that in my adoration for this person, I started to unconsciously mimic her. I would recycle the questions I heard her use with the people I trained. I would shake my hands in the air like she did when she told a story. She was British, and I even started to sign my emails with “cheers” and say”bollocks” whenever I got miffed. It was pretty gross. And I had no idea I was doing it.
As I shared in a ForbesWoman article last summer, the key to fixing communication mimicry or any of the interpersonal relationship errors that can over time derail the relationships we care about most, is to shift away from a “me“ orientation. Rather than replaying a story in our heads where our role model is infallible or we bemoan that we can’t be as eloquent or together as them, we want to ask how can we put our own fingerprints on the communication behaviors we find so appealing.
Writer Charles Caleb Colton is credited with saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I disagree. It’s using our authentic communication style to inspire other people the way our role models inspire us that most honors their leadership and influence.
Over the years, I’ve learned that there are a couple key ways we can consistently do this.
1. First, the moment we find ourselves making an idol of someone, we want to ask ourselves, “What communication tools does this person use that I [and most likely other people] find so attractive?” Most likely you will identify some combination of the following:
A) Asks a lot of open-ended questions
B) Communicates more possibilities than problems
C) Makes people feel good about themselves
D) Projects confidence in her/himself…and the people s/he surrounds her/himself with
E) Embraces his/her quirkiness and uses humor to build rapport
Start incorporating these strategies and stylistic elements, your way, into how you communicate with others.
2. Then, periodically spot-check yourself, particularly when you find yourself mentally or verbally ooing and aahing over your role model. Think about what has recently come out of your mouth, gone into reports or emails, been posted online, etc. and make sure it is sounding like you.
I’m always on the hunt for new role models who use their communication to propose great ideas, make people feel seen and worthy, and who are able to take ownership of their mistakes when they inevitably happen. In the comments section below, please let me know the women and men who inspire you in these ways so that I can check them out. And if you want to know who some of mine are, peruse the line-up for this week’s TEDxFremontEastWomen. It’s been one of the highlights of my year collaborating with these 9 women on their signature talks–supporting each to awaken to and own her idea worth spreading and to communicate it in her distinct voice. I look forward to seeing many of you headquartered in Las Vegas at the sold-out event.