“The best leaders are the best note takers, best askers and best learners – they are shameless thieves.” -Tom Peters
This is an interesting quote by Tom Peters but it points out that good leaders are continually working on improving themselves. How do you rate yourself at taking notes, asking questions, continually learning something new and always looking for ideas to adapt or implement yourself?
One of my favorite little books is “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon. His thesis is that nothing is original. All creative work builds on what came before. Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.
This is encouraging to me. I have always believed that I was not that creative. But I can “steal” a good idea and make it better, adapt it to something I am doing or build on it. I feel less pressure to create when I am freed to take what is already out there and put my own ideas and take on it.
Kleon writes about how Conan O’Brien has talked about how comedians try to emulate their heroes, fall short, and end up doing their own thing. Johnny Carson tried to be Jack Benny but ended up Johnny Carson. David Letterman tried to copy Johnny Carson but ended up David Letterman. And Conan O’Brien tried to be David Letterman but ended up Conan O’Brien. In O’Brien’s words, “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”
One of the best ways to learn how to be a leader is to watch and emulate other good leaders. I have always tried to do this. I will never be able to become the great leaders I watch, but I can learn and “steal” from them to help me become the best leader I can be.
The flip side of stealing is to be open and share your ideas. Kleon adds that if you are worried about giving your secrets away, you can share your dots without connecting them. If you share with others, you can learn from them and they can help make your ideas better. From a leadership perspective, sharing power by empowering others is a foundational principle.
I hope this helps you look at your heroes and other people’s ideas in a different light. Become a better leader. Keep taking notes, asking questions, learning everything you can. Steal the best ideas and practices and improve on them, learn from them, add to them or just be inspired by them.