Stop trying to be the leader who led you

Last week, we talked about how your leadership brand is your billboard.

Your brand is what people know about you before you walk into a room, and if your brand is a painted canvas, your leadership style is HOW you bring the art to life.

The problem is most leaders only know how to lead how they were led. This is a trap! 

Say this with me, “I am not my old boss. I will not be at my best trying to emulate them.”

This is what happens when you try and copy your boss:

  • You emulate their flaws,
  • Come across as inauthentic,
  • And waste energy trying to be something you are not

You’ve heard it 100 times, but being authentic matters.

You build a brand when your words match your actions consistently over time. This means you have to be authentic.

A study by the National Library of Medicine found that “when business owners are perceived as more authentic leaders, their employees show higher personal initiative and are more engaged at work and, in turn, identify more innovative solutions to be implemented in the organization.”

This is a big deal.

Developing your own unique leadership style will help you:

  • Get promoted
  • Attract & retain incredible employees
  • Increase your team performance & impact

The greatest leaders do big things, differently

Think of the coaches, teachers, family members, and bosses who had the biggest impact in your life. They were all very different people who took completely different approaches to making an impact. 

The same is true for business leaders who have made the biggest impact on the world in the last 20 years. 

  • Jack Ma (Founder of Alibaba) is a charismatic known for his inspirational speeches and relentless optimism. His leadership style values teamwork, a positive corporate culture, and learning from mistakes.
  • Mary Barra (CEO of General Motors) is known for her transformational leadership, focusing on innovation and team collaboration to revitalize the company. Her “No more crappy cars” motto reflects her commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.
  • Ruth Porat (CFO of Alphabet Inc.) combines her strategic financial acumen with a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. Her leadership style is characterized by clear, transparent communication and a focus on long-term sustainability.

It’s very common, especially early in our leadership journey, to try and lead the way our bosses led us. It’s natural to start by imitating others, and we should be learning from how they approach their work.  

But in order to reach your potential you will need to challenge yourself to develop your own style.So what do you do?

Even though there is not a cookie cutter process with how you lead, there are qualities your team needs from their leader. 

🕶 Remember, people trust the leader before they trust the mission.

Here are 7 qualities your team needs from you as a leader:

  • Caring
  • Honest
  • Inspiring
  • Intelligent
  • Competent
  • Dependability
  • Forward looking

Creating your style doesn’t mean you get to decide which of these qualities you eliminate, you need them all. Your style will come with HOW you display these qualities.

And even though you might not see yourself as a caring or forward thinking person, think about the times when you have demonstrated these qualities.

  • How did you do it?
  • What was unique about that situation?

🕶Developing your unique style is a combination of reflection and action.

Understanding past success can help us plan for future success. You’ll likely start to see trends in times when you were able to stand out and surprise yourself and others by what you are able to accomplish.

There are times in your life when you’ve been able to do something great that came naturally to you but would have been challenging or impossible to others. What happened in these moments?

  • How do you inspire the team?
  • How do you show people you care?
  • How do you demonstrate excellence?

How do you take care of those in your charge?

A challenge for you!

I challenge you to harness your inner authenticity..

For one week, I want you to become the Sherlock Holmes of your leadership journey. Observe yourself closely, write down every leadership moment in a dedicated journal. Watch for instances where you express the qualities we’ve talked about: caring, honesty, inspiring, intelligence, competence, dependability, and forward-thinking. Explore the “how” in those moments – what made them unique?

Scrutinize your entries, and look for trends. These are insights into your authentic leadership style. Were you more energized, more engaged when you were simply being you? What influence did your actions have on those around you? There’s no good or bad here, be curious and become more self-aware.

I’d love to know a couple of insights you uncover as you reflect.

Remember leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all.  Next week we will look into how personal growth impacts your management brand.

Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach in Salem, Oregon. For more information visit

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