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How To Clone Yourself and Lead With Courage

A good friend of mine who is a management psychologist, Gail Golden, has often talked about the power and difference of using “We” as opposed to “You.” This is never more apparent than when a new leader comes aboard a company and uses phrases such as, “At my old company, WE always did it this way but YOU do it this way.”

The new person who has a major influence on steering the ship has just taken a step to become a lot more isolated. Intentional or not, they’re not seeing themselves as part of the team and are sending a message that everyone and everything in their new environment is inadequate, probably before they’ve even fully understood their surroundings. Instead of using this key window of opportunity to build relationships, the new leader is building a wall that turns people off.

How do you avoid isolating yourself on an island and integrate more quickly and tightly with your new team?

First, let’s examine the root of why new leaders come in with “the answer” far too soon:

  • Many C-level executives enter the organization with some combination of pressure and tremendous urgency to get things done. “I have to do A, B and C by the end of the year.”

  • Rather than understand the people, processes and challenges fully, they may make false assumptions about their new environment. “I’ve seen this kind of thing before and I’ll bet that’s what is going on here too.”

  • Using solutions from the “past life” at their former company, there’s a known entity of what worked, which would be convenient to use here as well considering the urgency factor. “It’s simple! I know it worked there so it should work in this environment too!”

  • By the way, let’s not pretend in several types of leaders that there isn’t some degree of ego on their part involved here too. “This isn’t my first rodeo. I know what it takes to transform companies, I’ve been doing this for ___ years and I’ll do it again now.”

Mix all these ingredients together and it’s only a matter of time before we hear the leader say, “I can do it myself. I’ve done this before and I know how to fix it. It’s easier for me to do it than to explain it to you.”

So why wouldn’t they want to delegate?

Part of it may be insecurity in that the leader could be worried that the person they’re delegating to will outshine them. However, there could be a much deeper issue – are we talking about a fact that there isn’t a handoff of work because that employee doesn’t have the skills and if so, why aren’t they being trained? Or is it really more about the fact that they don’t have the trust? If it’s a matter that it can’t be handed off to a subordinate, why couldn’t it at least be handed off to a colleague on a more lateral level?

It’s puzzling but the problem of isolation starts when a leader thinks the challenge can only be addressed by one person: Them. Fortunately, there’s a smart strategy for breaking free of this idea effectively.

How Leaders Can Clone Themselves

At any given moment, a CEO could find themselves isolated unnecessarily from their employees, clients and investors because let’s face it – those are a lot of different parties with different needs that have to be met. It’s a tall order and maybe even an impossible one. So it’s imperative that you have other people who are highly competent to fill in for you where needed: A small group of people you can trust who can represent you and the company vision.

See, the key to a leader moving away from a state of isolation isn’t about that leader sprinkling all of their knowledge across the entire company like magical pixie dust. It’s better instead for the leader to extend themselves through a small council of trusted internal advisors.

For example, you have someone who can stay highly in touch with customers, a strong financial person who can take care of the investors, a great HR person for talent development and an excellent operations person. This group becomes your personal board of directors. HR, Financial, Strategic and Operations: If you have the four of these covered and you’re moving in sync, it’s one way to “clone” yourself.

Hey, Has Anybody Seen Our CEO?

That said, though you can’t be in all places at once, if you’re a CEO, you have to be visible. I’ve worked in firms where, despite our group being one of the most profitable in the region, I didn’t see the CEO of the firm once in several years. Not one time did he come to the office for a business review. Nor were we ever able to come present to him about any new developments from our team.

Think about the message this lack of visibility sends! It says you don’t care, aren’t interested or only see people as farm animals – meaning as long as they produce, you won’t be present but if they don’t produce, then you’ll be all over their case. You don’t have to be “hands-on” at all times but surely you’d agree that it would be nice to be seen at least once in several years, wouldn’t it?

CEOs don’t have any peers in the organization. However, anyone in that position has to eventually ask themselves, “Whom do I talk to and trust? Whom can I bounce ideas off of?”

What if you don’t have a large enough company to have such an inner circle of senior advisors? Leverage your network. This includes offline networking groups and roundtables as well as online LinkedIn Groups. All the while, as you determine the groups that are the best fit, look for people of different opinions who have a responsibility to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

ACTION STEPS: What are you going to do to be successful?

Starting now:

  • Meet with 4-5 people regularly– not a monthly meeting but every 2 weeks if not every week. When this group comes together, I don’t advocate for having some kind of a bureaucratic, status report meeting.

  • Make sure they bring the agenda items (what should we talk about, what are our priorities and what do we need to cover as a team?)

  • Set up the infrastructure for communication to occur on a free-flowing basis within your close-knit group

  • Identify like-minded groups in your business network

  • Remember that as you’re setting up your own personal board of advisors, you still have to be very much visible to your team.

There is one more great action item that new leaders can do to ensure they’re aligning themselves with their team and building a culture: Take advantage of our Setting Leaders Up For Success program from Value Drivers. In 8-12 weeks, we work with company leadership and their teams to develop consensus and commitment to clearly defined objectives, goals, tactics and measures. And we’ll provide the hands-on support to ensure its implementation and further improve your odds of success. To hear more about this program, call Value Drivers today at 312.827.2643, email us at, or click here to arrange a 30-minute consultation.

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