Stop Wearing Someone Else’s Outfit


I don’t usually buy clothes. For the past 15 years, I’ve relied on shirts given to me when I speak at conferences or those that my wife insists that I buy.  I do have a couple of dress shirts that I keep when the need arises. I don’t dress to impress – I dress to be comfortable. This was largely affected by my time in the university. Prior to entering college, I wore signature, branded apparel. I aim for the expensive and well-known stuff. That’s because I work hard to earn the money I use to buy my clothes. And, then, there’s college. I went to our nation’s premiere university for five-and-a-half years (an engineering degree takes 5 years to complete but because I wasn’t smart enough, it took me half-a-year more as I highlighted in a previous blog post.) Those years have totally changed my lifestyle – from my way of thinking to the clothes that I wear.

Fast forward 20 years. I was at a Walmart store in Pennsylvania to grab something to drink when my wife told me to go buy an extra pair of jeans. I wasn’t really planning to get one but I realized that I do need to get an extra pair that I can use when travelling. My first instinct was to go to the section that has the popular brand that I wore in high school. As soon as I grabbed a pair that I think fits me, I immediately felt time going back to my high school days when my classmates would ask how I managed to get one of those branded jeans. You know, those times when you’re the center of attention. Don’t we all love the feeling? Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to try them on as the fitting rooms were all being renovated. I immediately drove home to see how they fit me but to my surprise, I don’t feel comfortable in them.

As leaders, we are prone to define our leadership styles based on some “popular beliefs.” Most people will say that a great leader needs to have charisma, popularity and power. While there is nothing wrong with having all three, I strongly feel that leadership styles should start with the heart. Who you are as a person should define your leadership style because everything that you will do is but a reflection of who you are. Unfortunately, we all have a picture of what a great leader is and should look like. We try to do our best to at least look like it. Here are several reasons why you need to “stop wearing someone else’s outfit” when it comes to leadership styles:

  1. You are a unique individual. There can only be one Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King so don’t expect to be like them. I used to want to become like Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, because of what he did to the company when he led it. But then I realized that his personality is totally different from mine. I have certain personality traits that I could capitalize and use in my own leadership styles. One of the things that I tell aspiring leaders when asking about strategies and techniques to become better leaders is to…
  2. Take stock of your personality traits. You already have what it takes to become a great leader. It’s just a matter of knowing what they are.  Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinders are just two of several tools that you can use to identify your personality type and strengths. As unique individuals, we have certain traits that stand out from the rest. And since we already have these in our system, it wouldn’t be that hard to build them up. If you are a people person,  it wouldn’t be that hard for you to be personal in your leadership style. I’ve learned by taking stock of my past experiences that I am a teacher at heart. I use that information as part of my leadership style.
  3. If you’re not comfortable in your own skin, you won’t be in someone else’s. Much have been written on the concept of authentic leadership. Bill George, author of the book of the same title, states that “if we conform to a style that is not consistent with who we are, we will never become authentic leaders.”  We can only be authentic if we operate on the basis of the real us. It’s like putting on a pair of jeans that don’t fit – we feel uncomfortable.

Leadership can be developed and learned. There’s nothing wrong with learning from others and copying their leadership styles. However, before we conform to the popular notions of how leadership should be, we need to first search from within and develop our leadership style based on our own unique personality traits and strengths. You’ll be surprised at how much natural talent you have to take your leadership to a whole new level. And be sure you try an outfit first before deciding to take it home.

Question: What personality trait have you found out that you now use as part of your leadership style? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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