We all know extraordinary people in business or life that we really admire and respect, so much so that we would like to take some of their qualities and make them our own. I’m not talking about extraordinary bank accounts (although sometimes emulating does have side benefits.) What I’m talking about is the way people interact with the world around them. These are the people who shape the world around them in the best of ways. You know the kind of people I’m talking about. The Bill Clintons of the world. The Ronald Reagans of the world. The people who got to where they are in life because of how they go about life.
So how do you take a little of that magic and make it yours? Becoming that person or business is impossible, and even copying that person or business isn’t effective because no two people or companies do the same thing the same way. This is why the key to learning from our heroes is to emulate.
Emulate, as defined by Webster, is to be the same in meaning or effect. This is different than copying. To emulate, you must focus on the outcome, not the specifics of delivery. There have been a number of people in my life whom I’ve tried to emulate, but Bill Nicholson—former CEO of Amway, a Vietnam Veteran, and appointment secretary to Gerald Ford—has been an amazing mentor. One quality of his that I decided to emulate was the way he contributes to meetings. In a large meeting, he will listen intently for the first 30 or 40 minutes, then come up with a story that is applicable to the meeting at hand.
Bill and I were pitching the Humane Society’s 26-member board on the contract to revamp their identity logo, mission, and purpose. Bill sat there and listened, then when asked what he thought he said, “This discussion reminds me of the time in the Oval Office when I didn’t know how to use the phone, making communication with the President impossible. This is how I see the functioning here: this Board of Directors is not able to communicate with their CEO.”
We got the contract.
To emulate Bill, I can’t tell the same stories he does, but what I can do is emulate how he grounds and steers the discussion with a story-telling example of the issue he perceives—but when I do it I have to deliver it in my own unique way.
Now, when I see the need for a “power shift” in a meeting, I tell one of my own stories about perspective. One of my favorites is about Prince Charles. Many people don’t know this, but the prince is one of the world’s most active and capable sustainability advocates. I was hired to help him produce a book entitled “Harmony” and a documentary of the same name. During the project, I arranged a meeting between the prince and Lee Scott, who had just built our country’s first waste-free grocery store in Russellville, Arkansas.
During the discussion on sustainability and design that ensued, the prince asked, in his gentlemanly way, “May I ask you a question, Lee?” Lee replied, “Well, sure.”
The prince then asked, “Is the store beautiful?”
Lee, a bit taken aback, replied, “No, not really. It’s a grocery store.”
The prince then said, “Then it’s not really sustainable because nature would never build something that’s not beautiful.”
When I tell the story of how the prince offered a different perspective on how beauty is part of sustainability, I’m able to emulate Bill’s way of re-establishing common ground in a meeting. It hardly matters if the story I’m telling is exactly like the situation in the meeting I’m trying to influence. What matters is that the story shifts the perspective of the people in the meeting in the right way. I’ll never have Bill’s incredible ability to drive a meeting in precisely the right direction, but because I emulate him with energy and enthusiasm, I’m now much more able to influence meetings to be productive, enjoyable experiences for everyone involved.
To emulate extraordinary qualities in a person or an endeavor, take the time to determine what makes them great. Figure out what it is about what they do that makes them heroic. Pinpoint a reason. If it’s an extraordinary person you’re wanting to emulate, watch them in action. Is it their gestures? Their stories? Is it their deeper communication? Their eye contact? If it’s a company or endeavor, become a student of the things that make that company extraordinary. Watch their annual meetings, product launches, and press releases. Conduct your own research project to determine what it is that makes that company extraordinary.
One experience I will never forget is my first meeting with Bill Clinton. He had an ability to focus right into your eyes making you feel like you where the most important person in the room. I loved his ability to concentrate on you in an entourage with people all around him. This is another quality that I need to learn to emulate.
Once you have picked out the extraordinary qualities you’d like to emulate, develop your own flavor of those actions or qualities. Transform their qualities into your own. This is where it becomes vitally important that you align your enthusiasm behind that quality. If you just try to copy them, you’ll never make it your own. If you do it with your own energy and your own style, you will find that you begin to deliver some of your hero’s qualities and become extraordinary yourself. When you make the extraordinary yours, the quality becomes part of who you are.
This energetic emulation of your heroes’ qualities is incredibly powerful; the kind of technique that can catapult you beyond your expectations, so be ready…
So I’m going to end today with another of my favorite quotes…
I grew up when I was 15 when I had my first opportunity in movies. I watched every great movie for a year and a half, and since then I’ve asked myself how I can emulate such artistry. That’s really my motivation. I want to do something as good as my heroes have done. —Leonardo DiCaprio