I’m not sure where I first heard it. I’m not sure who first said it or who wrote it. It may have been Dr. John Maxwell. I’ve learned a lot of leadership stuff from him over the years. All I know is that over my more than three decades of leadership experience and observation, it is true: “Leaders can teach what they know, but they will only reproduce what they are.”

ClonesI’ve seen this inevitable and unavoidable principle displayed in all kinds of organizations —businesses, churches, non-profits, police departments and even nations. I’ve watched it hold true in families. Leaders can teach what they know, but they will only reproduce what they are.

Whether leading a family, a business or a congregation, what we say has less impact than what we do. Our actions speak louder than words. We harvest what we plant. We can teach commitment, integrity, compassion and more. But honestly, those who follow us for very long will soon know if we really mean it and practice it.

I’ve watched parents show unbelievable disrespect to their child and then turn around and discipline that child for denigrating another person. I’ve observed store-owners critique an employee about how they handled a customer but after watching and listening to how they treated their employee, I know why the employee did what she did.  Leaders can teach what they know, but they will unavoidably reproduce what they are.

This leadership principle is a wonderfully positive truth that inspires me. At this age and stage of life, I love to see my leadership DNA in the organization I started and have led for many years. It is so rewarding to me when I hear a young leader passing on something I modeled for them years and years ago. It doesn’t get much better.

This reproducing-what-you-are norm can also be a frightful reality. Which is it for you? When you realize those you lead will become what you are, does that thought bring relieved confidence or nervous apprehension? Let me ask you, do you want to reproduce your character, your passions, your qualities and your commitments? If not, what do you need to change today so you reproduce something different in the future? Remember, leaders can teach what they know but they will inevitably reproduce what they are.


QUESTION: What is the top thing you want to make sure gets reproduced by those who come behind you? Share it below.


2 responses to An Unavoidable Principle of Leadership

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