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Be the best YOU that you can be. Someone else is already someone else

Jul 01, 2012 Success, Sunday Nation

Is there a job in the world more difficult than succeeding Steve Jobs?

Tim Cook had to take on that role after the legendary Apple CEO succumbed to cancer last year. Imagine yourself in his shoes: taking over from the man who almost singlehandedly created the world’s most valuable company; a master showman lauded and applauded by all the world’s media; a leader with an incendiary management style.

That’s a tough act to follow. And there’s only one way to do it.

Eric Jackson made this telling point in Forbes magazine recently: “Tim Cook can’t be Steve Jobs, but he can be the best Tim Cook.  From where I stand…he’s doing a first-rate job of being himself.”

Spot on. Jobs was mercurial and dramatic; Cook is quiet and considered. Jobs launched new products with panache and performance; Cook does it with understated confidence. Jobs had the world’s media hanging on his every utterance; Cook avoids the limelight and often gets his lieutenants to face the cameras.

The thing is this: no one can be Steve Jobs. He was a one-off, and mimicking him would be an exercise in futility. I am very impressed that that Tim Cook understands this perfectly, and has made no attempt to impersonate his late mentor. This is in spite of the intense media interest, and the willingness of every dimwit out there to point out that Cook not being Jobs is a problem.

As Forbes put it: “Tim Cook is Being a First Rate Tim Cook, Instead of a Second Rate Steve Jobs.” Now, please note: we don’t know yet whether Tim Cook will be a success. He was obviously a key part of the world-beating product machine that Jobs created, and he understands and upholds Apple’s values perfectly. Whether he takes Apple to greater heights remains to be seen.

The only thing he can do, however, is to be himself in that journey.

This is a profound leadership lesson. In my discussions with business leaders, I try to emphasize one trait above all others: authenticity. Be yourself. Be true to your own personality; develop your own unique leadership assets. Do not keep looking over the fence at how other leaders are doing it; do not fall into the trap of mimicry.

Younger bosses should pay heed: trying to be a photocopy of someone else is a flawed strategy. You will always end up being a faded facsimile, never as sharp as the original. Be the best ‘you’ that you can be, not the second-best version of someone else. Be the best at being you; someone else is already better at being someone else.

The temptation to feed off the success of others is always present, but a deeper understanding of success reveals this insight: that the journey is inward, not outward. The more we understand about ourselves and our unique internal make-up, the better leaders we will become. Extensive global research confirms this: followers want a leader they can trust, one who is authentic and original. No one trusts an imitator, because no one knows what the mimic will morph into next.

Being yourself, however, is not the same as being proud of all your flaws. Leadership is about creating value for others, and if your personal traits prevent you from doing this, you will have some deep thinking to do. The answer, however, will still not lie in mimicry; it will come from amplifying your leadership strengths and minimizing the harm done by your weaknesses.

If you are a person with the ambition to be make an impact in this world, do not be plagued by self-doubt and comparison. Authenticity is what gives us all the confidence to do our best and to press on with our best foot forward.

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