I’ve been leading in some form now for half of my life. From having leadership roles in high school, college, and church, I have learned a lot.
I remember a phrase I’ve heard many times…”Don’t reinvent the wheel”. Meaning, don’t do something new when something that’s already been done works fine (at least that’s how I interpret it)!
As a young leader (or even as an older leader starting a new project), I believe there is one piece of advice that is extremely important:
I know…I know. Your mental arguments are already beginning. You’ve got great ideas. Your personality is different. Your dreams are bigger. Your… The list goes on.
Let me make a few points:
1. There are certain things that are the same, almost wherever you go. If you live in the United States, chances are you eat with a fork. There are a few exceptions. Some eat with chopsticks (which I love), and others eat with their hands (my kids). Besides a few exceptions, no one has really come up with a better way of eating in a LONG time. The same is true in leadership. Those who have gone before us have best practices that need to be repeated.
2. There is no way to effectively change anything without a proper reference point. Let’s return to utensils. Before you invent a new way to eat, use a fork first…only then will you know if your new way is actually better than the old way. I watch many leaders that attempt to do something new, which is great! Then they fail, which is also great! The problem lies in the fact that they don’t know what they failed in, or how they failed, because they haven’t spent any time to properly analyze what they are doing or not doing effectively. Imitating others who have gone before us gives us a great starting point from which we can jump. If my goal is to jump high, it makes more sense to stand on the foundation that has already been laid, instead of trying to build a new one. The most incredible advances in science, technology, etc exist because the new generation starts where the old one left off. Get a good reference point first. Imitate!
3. Humility. When I begin by imitating others, I am easily taught that I am NOT the source of all wisdom, ideas, creativity, etc. Imitation begets humility. And, humility goes a long way.
4. Trust. When I imitate those who have gone before me, it will lead to “wins” in whatever I’m doing. Two types of trust will form. My trust in God and myself (abilities, knowledge, etc) will increase. Second, the trust of others in my leadership will expand. When I am seen respecting those whose legacy I come from, I gain the trust of those who trusted the ones who went before me. Click here and read 2 Kings 2:1-18. It’s the story of the prophet Elijah handing the “prophetic reins” over to Elisha.
Read specifically these verses (13-15):
13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.
15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
I think these verses speak for themselves.
Imitate, then innovate.
And remember, in your imitation (and innovation), give honor and credit to those who have gone before you.