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197. Copycat Leadership

About this Podcast

Ep. 197 – The allure of success and influence isn’t just something that happens with the latest viral post. It can also happen when new managers try to mimic the behaviors of respected and influential figures in their organization.

Understandably so.

New managers want to establish themselves as credible and effective leaders and may naturally feel inclined to embody similar traits, communication styles, decision-making methods, and other leadership tactics as their role models.

However, mirroring another leader’s style without comprehending the underlying principles and motivations can quickly backfire.

If you’ve ever found yourself picking up another leader’s behavior, this episode is a must-listen.

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Episode 197 Transcript:

Ramona Shaw [00:00:00]:
This is episode 197 of The Manager Track podcast, and we’re gonna talk about copycat leadership. Some people call it the parent leader. We’ll talk about all of that in this episode. Here’s the question. How do you successfully transition into your 1st official leadership role, Build the confidence and competence to lead your team successfully and establish yourself as a respected and trusted leader across the organization. That’s the question, and this show provides the answers. Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. I’m your host, Ramona Shaw, and I’m on a mission to create workplaces where work is not seen as a source of stress and dread, but as a source of contribution, connection, and fulfillment.

Ramona Shaw [00:00:39]:
And this transition starts with developing a new generation of leaders who know how to lead so everyone wins and grows. In The show, you’ll learn how to think, communicate, and act as the confident and competent leader you know you can be. Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. I hope you’re doing well. I hope that you started 2024 successfully so far. I can’t believe how the weeks fly by. But here we are. And I have something for you that actually comes up quite often in coaching calls with new managers or in in our leadership accelerator program.

Ramona Shaw [00:01:14]:
And I don’t think I ever talked about it on the podcast. I’m looking forward to this episode. The thing I wanna talk to you about is copycat leadership, why we fall into the traps of performing copycat leadership and the problems with doing so. So let’s start off defining what copycat leadership means. Copycat leadership or being a parrot leader means that you’re imitating the style of another leader without really knowing why. So you may be looking for and picking up other leaders’ behaviors, ways of decision making, ways of communicating. And you like it or it resonates, or you think it looks good or it seems confident or effective, and you apply it. You imitate someone else’s style.

Ramona Shaw [00:02:07]:
Now as I’m saying this, it may sound very obvious that, no, we shouldn’t imitate other leaders without knowing why and become copycat leaders. So why is this important to talk about, and why do people do it in the 1st place? If you’re thinking that, I get it. But the challenge with this is it’s not as black and white as it seems because being inspired by other leaders is actually a good thing. Learning from other leaders is a good thing. Emulating successful leaders can be effective as you develop your own leadership skills. But when we’re imitating their style and we don’t know why and sometimes, by the way, We may have a bit of a controlling manager or boss who dictate to us directly or indirectly how we should lead our teams. They tell us, you gotta do this or you gotta handle The situation this way, and here’s what I do, and you should do the same. And they may feel really compelling to do that.

Ramona Shaw [00:03:08]:
But again, if you don’t understand why this certain behavior or this approach is the right approach for the situation you’re imitating and not learning from other leaders. And that’s where we get to the core of this issue. And it’s a fine line. And especially for new managers, it’s kinda hard to navigate that balance or walk that tight rope between being inspired and learning from others without imitating. And the only way ever that I found to prevent this from happening or to get out of feeling like you’re trapped in imitating someone else’s style is to go back to the basis or start with the basics of understanding your own leadership values, your own leadership principles, and to build from there. Before we dive into this in a little bit more detail, I wanna share a quick story. I had a client who was the new Manager. And throughout, I wanna say about 7 or 10 years of prior to him getting promoted, he had a CEO in The company that he idolized, that he really respected.

Ramona Shaw [00:04:16]:
He thought was a fabulous leader. He was clearly well liked, well respected, and very effective in running the company. And all along, he knew he wanted to be a leader at one day, and he wanted to become that kind of leader. So he looked at How did that person communicate in meetings? How did that person give direction or delegate? How did they make decisions? And they started to Soak all that up like a sponge. And the moment they got promoted, they felt like, okay. Now it’s the time to reenact that leader. And initially, that helped my client gain their respect from the team because he appeared like, he knew how to lead, and he had a game plan. He seemed confident and competent.

Ramona Shaw [00:05:05]:
And so people listened, and people started to trust him. But what he didn’t realize is that he only saw A glimpse of what that leader was actually doing throughout the day and the different conversations that leader had. You would only see what that leader publicly presented in forums that my client was present in or that he heard about. He did not see how that leader responded to conflict, how that leader responded to employees who were struggling. I didn’t see the in between the line communication, the office politics that’s more subtle, informal, behind the scenes or behind closed doors. That in combination to that leader’s otherwise somewhat assertive and dominant style made that CEO really effective. So my client didn’t realize that and just imitated that assertive behavior without combining it with the empathy and the compassion in 1 on 1 situations or when conflict of challenges came up. And because of that, it was a matter of months until His team started to feel disconnected, and they started to pick up a bit of an a misalignment, like an inauthenticity to my client.

Ramona Shaw [00:06:25]:
And it was at that point that the company did performance reviews and gathered feedback from my client’s team. And because of the feedback and the criticism that he received in our performance reviews from his team in an anonymous way, That is what initiated the his boss then to sign him up for our leadership accelerator program so he could Develop his own leadership style and cover the basics. Now in this particular case, this inauthenticity and misalignment was mainly picked up by the team. What happens though most often for leaders who fall into this trap of imitating other leaders’ behaviors is The not only are they presenting somewhat of an inauthentic and usually ineffective one size fits all style because they’re picking up other leaders’ behaviors without really knowing why, but they also start to feel inauthentic in it. When we’re not working from our values and on our core principles and understand why we’re adapting our style to different situations, and can effectively do so because we understand where we’re coming from as a as where is our core and why are we pivoting in given situations. Then we’re starting to either feel like we’re a bit of a fraud or an imposter, or we can start to feel Like, leadership is really hard. It’s draining. It feels like I have to put a mask on.

Ramona Shaw [00:07:55]:
It becomes like a performance. It doesn’t feel good because we’re presenting an image to the team that isn’t actually us. We’re not really owning, Not really leading from, so to speak, the inside out. We are, in a fact, grabbing masks and putting masks on, and that is not sustainable. And some leaders will recognize it because it doesn’t feel good to The. And some leaders will have to learn the hard way because they get the feedback from their team, or they’re just starting to underperform The the team is not trusting them and engagement drops. And so I wanna share this message with you so you can be on the lookout. And you can ask yourself this question, really challenge yourself here.

Ramona Shaw [00:08:42]:
When and how am I imitating other leaders and when and how am I feeling inspired? But and we’re learning from them. And it’s that aspect of learning from other leaders that fuels per personal and professional growth. The putting on the mask, That doesn’t do anything for you. That’s a very temporary short term solution. So when you’re looking at other leaders and they do something that you like or that resonates with you. Don’t focus on the how. Like, how did they do this? Instead, ask yourself why. So as you’re reflecting on your own sources of inspiration or The behaviors that you’re picking up from other leaders around you.

Ramona Shaw [00:09:29]:
Do you know the why? Why you’re doing it? And when is that an effective approach? And when is that not an effective approach? When should you lean into The, but also when should you not do this? There is not 1 leadership style or The behavior that always works. That is a myth. That is not the case. Leadership is about knowing your core, your anchor, and then being able to adapt based based on the situation or the people in front of you. So if you know the how but not the why, and if you don’t know when is this useful and when is it not, then you’re likely putting on that mask and you’re imitating someone else’s leadership approach. But don’t worry. Nothing is too late. Just as you’re noticing it, Start to figure out why something works or why it doesn’t work.

Ramona Shaw [00:10:17]:
Why is it being done? Or why is it not being done? That is how you will grow. We can actually benefit from leaders who’ve gone before you. Leaders who have way more experience than you. So it is in that self reflection. It’s in discerning the approaches. It’s understanding the why that you will learn. Now I’m combining this with also calling out that need to identify your core. This is why I don’t think any Person, any employee, no matter how strong their performance is as an individual contributor, should be put in a position to lead others without them getting the support, training, and guidance to develop their leadership skills.

Ramona Shaw [00:10:58]:
And as part of that, any good leadership training. Any good manager training starts with helping you develop awareness about your own values and your principles so that your way of leading feels authentic to yourself, and you can see how bringing more of yourself to work and to your team and to 1 on 1 conversations. Not only feels fulfilling, but also helps you create results. Because a team will start to see that and see you as the the person that you are with all of your humanity, your flaws and your shortcomings, your vulnerabilities, and your strength and your skills and your expertise, and all of that. And when they do and they see it and it’s consistent and you’re owning it, that is when Real relationships start to flourish and the trust that glue is put in place where you have a team of followers. Then you actually become a leader. It is not the leader who puts a title on themselves to say I’m a leader. It is the, so to speak, followers or team members who say, yes.

Ramona Shaw [00:12:14]:
This is our leader. Yes. This is our Manager. And we appoint you as that we respect you as that. That is what ultimately makes you a leader. Not really the title or anyone else, but your team who’s calling the shot. And this really matters and is important. Be on the lookout to ensure that when you’re starting as a leader or even As you grow as a leader and you’re being assigned more responsibilities or bigger teams or you’re moved into a different role, That at any of those moments in time that you reflect again on what are your leadership values, what are the principles, And how do you need to adapt based on the team that you have and based on the challenges your team is solving or the people that you’re working with as stakeholders? What works as a style for a frontline manager is not what works for a director who is a manager of managers or someone who’s overseeing a department or more.

Ramona Shaw [00:13:13]:
They require different behaviors. The reassessing and self reflecting on this on a regular basis. But most importantly, during those times of transition is key. And when you find yourself in a situation where you recognize, I’m not sure what to do here, or you ask a mentor or a senior leader, or you’re calling how someone else has done this in the past. Go back to those questions. Why are they doing what they’re doing? Or specifically ask, why do you think this is the right approach here? Or for you yourself, you decide what’s the result you’re going for. What do you wanna get out of this? What is the thing that you want to solve for? And then based on that result that you have in mind, what is it that you need to do? And if the answer is do that behavior, do that thing that the CEO you admire is doing, then go and do that because you know why. And that is how we learn from others in a conscious and intentional way.

Ramona Shaw [00:14:15]:
That is not copycat leadership. So to really call that out, continue to do that, but be really mindful of all the things that you intimidate others without truly getting it Or where you look at someone else and their leadership approach, and you think this is The size fits all situations, and that is how that leader shows up in all conversations. That is a myth. It’s not true. If they’re Effective, and they’re actually as respected as you think that they are from maybe a bit afar. They will not act the same way in all conversations. They will know when this particular approach that you’re seeing won’t work, and they will totally pivot and sometimes do a 180 in a particular situation where you would hardly recall them, but they do it because they know that their default approach or their natural style that they typically present won’t work with the person that they’re dealing with or the situation that they’re facing. Okay.

Ramona Shaw [00:15:12]:
So kind of a concise topic, and I hope this was brief in short, but inspired you to think and reflect on your own leadership behaviors, what inspires them, and how they truly feel to you and how they align with your values and principles, both, and to which degree you know why you’re using them and when to use or when not to use them. Okay. And with that, we’re going to wrap up this episode of The Manager Track podcast. Thank you for tuning in. If you like the show, please hit the 5 stars or share it with some colleagues or friends that you think would benefit as well. That will be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much. Take care, and I’ll see you next awesome resources to help you become a leader people love to work with.

Ramona Shaw [00:15:57]:
This includes my best selling book, The Confident and Competent New Manager, which you can find on Amazon or at Ramona Shaw.com/book and a free training on how to successfully lead as a new manager. You check it out at raymondashaw.com/masterclass. These resources and a couple more, you’ll find in the show notes down below.


  1. How important is it for leaders to develop self-awareness of their own values and principles in order to lead authentically?
  2. How does imitating another leader’s behavior without understanding the underlying principles differ from learning from and being inspired by other leaders?
  3. Have you ever found yourself imitating the leadership style of another leader without understanding why? How did it impact your effectiveness as a leader?
  4. What are some effective strategies for new managers to develop their own authentic leadership style and avoid falling into the trap of copycat leadership?


  • Learn how to turn your 1-on-1 meetings from time wasters, awkward moments, status updates, or non-existent into your most important and valuable meeting with your directs all week. Access the course and resources here: ramonashaw.com/11
  • Have a question or topic you’d like Ramona to address on a future episode? Fill out this form to submit it for her review: https://ramonashaw.com/ama



Grab your copy of Ramona’s best-selling book ‘The Confident & Competent New Manager: How to Rapidly Rise to Success in Your First Leadership Role’: amzn.to/3TuOdcP

If this episode inspired you in some way, take a screenshot of you listening on your device and post it to your Instagram Stories, and tag me @ramona.shaw.leadership or DM me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/ramona-shaw

Are you in your first manager role and don’t want to mess it up? Watch our FREE Masterclass and discover the 4 shifts to become a leader people love to work for: ramonashaw.com/masterclass

Don’t forget to invest time each week to increase your self-awareness, celebrate your wins, and learn from your mistakes. Your career grows only to the extent that you grow. Grab your Career Journal with leadership exercises and weekly reflections here: ramonashaw.com/shop

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