How to Avoid the Copy-Cat Leadership Trap

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Originally posted April 20, 2012

One of the best ways to develop in your leadership is to learn from other leaders. Growing leaders will read about other great leaders, will seek to discern their leadership traits, even emulate their leadership skills.

But one of the worst things you can do is to short-circuit the process by merely attempting to copy these great leaders.

Copy-cat leaders do little more than mimic someone else’s leadership style. They’ll try to copy the vision-casting style of Bill Hybels or the teaching mannerisms of Andy Stanley. They’ll even try to mimic the hip casual style of Steven Furtick.

This may result in short-term success, but rarely will it yield the lasting impact that comes only from a deeper study of great leaders.

So how can you avoid falling into the copy-cat leadership trap?

1.   Ask more “why” questions; ask fewer “how” questions
For every “how” question (“How does that leader use illustrations in his talks?”), ask at least four “why” questions. “Why does that leader bring so much energy when he preaches about lost people?” “Why does that leader pour so much of himself into younger leaders?”

“How” questions point to technique. “Why” questions point to values.

2.   Focus on a leader’s journey; not just their results
Many leaders want to copy the seemingly idyllic leadership lifestyle of Hawaii’s Wayne Cordeiro.

Few want to look at the years of burnout that he needed to endure.

Many leaders want to copy Craig Groeschel’s impressive media ministry.

Few want to look at the years of ministry spent in a garage.

The point is, the real “guts” of leadership is often found in studying these leaders’ most gruelling experiences.

3.   Seek to become the best leader you can be, not who someone else can be
God gave you certain leadership gifts, passions, dreams, and capacities.

Your goal must be to learn from other great leaders in order to fully grow into the leader God has called you to be, not to become some hybrid of other leaders.

Always learn from the leaders you most admire, but continually check your spirit to ensure you’re not seeking to merely copy them.

From that learning posture God can develop you into the leader he has uniquely designed you to be.

How do you ensure you don’t fall into “copy-cat” leadership?

the author

Scott Cochrane


  1. Great post Scott. I find that I have to be true to my personality. I can be inspired by someone else and their leadership, but I need to be who God created me to be and lead with the gifts that he has given me.

  2. Heather, sometimes I actually find myself using language that I KNOW isn’t my own, but it’s simply something I’ve picked up from a great leader I admire.

    You’re so right; we need to lead out of who God created each of us to be, with the gifts he has given each of us.

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