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Adept and nimble leadership is essential in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business world. Those in such positions are responsible for setting the tone, driving innovation and inspiring others to achieve. This is a heady mix of tasks, but how to perfect them? One powerful way is by leveraging Rene Girard’s mimetic theory.
Girard, a French historian, literary critic and philosopher, developed a theory of human behavior that emphasizes the role of imitation and desire in social interactions. His concepts were based on the idea that, from a very young age, human beings are fundamentally imitative creatures, and that our desires and behaviors are largely shaped by the desires and behaviors of those around us. The resulting theory has gained a significant amount of attention in recent years, particularly among business leaders and entrepreneurs, not least because it provides a powerful framework for understanding both employee and consumer behavior.
The process plays out simply: When we see someone else achieve or acquire something we desire, we are more likely to imitate their behavior in the hopes of doing the same. And leaders might be well advised to apply this incite in the process of motivating and inspiring teams.
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In a sense, we are always in competition with others, trying to outdo them in our pursuit of shared desires. However, this competition can often lead to conflict and rivalry, especially in a business setting where individuals may have different goals and aspirations. Mimetic theory helps leaders understand this, and ideally to find ways of channeling it positively, such as promoting healthy competition and collaboration in which team members work together to achieve shared goals. In such a culture of camaraderie and innovation, employees can feel valued, engaged and motivated to achieve their full potential.
To leverage Girard’s theory, leaders can choose from several strategies (or apply them all):
• Lead by example and demonstrate the behaviors and attitudes that they want others to emulate in an organization.
• Identify shared desires and goals, and align those with the goals of the organization as a whole.
• Create a culture of collaboration that values teamwork, open communication and shared ownership.
• Encourage innovation and creativity by creating an environment that values pioneering ideas.
To put these strategies into action, follow these steps:
1: Evaluate the current company culture and identify areas for improvement.
2: Set goals and objectives that align with the company’s vision and mission.
3: Communicate this new approach to employees and provide training and resources to support their success.
4: Monitor progress and make adjustments as needed.
To illustrate a few key aspects of mimetic theory, consider the example of Microsoft. In 2014, the company’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, adopted a “growth mindset” that emphasized collaboration, creativity and innovation. He encouraged employees to work together to achieve shared goals and provided platforms for them to exchange ideas. Under Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft’s stock price nearly tripled, and the company’s market capitalization grew to more than $2 trillion.
An example of a different kind can be found in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby. The character of Jay Gatsby, who supposedly embodies the American Dream, becomes the object of desire for many other characters in the novel, including narrator Nick Carraway and Gatsby’s former lover, Daisy Buchanan. They imitate his behaviors and embrace similar desires, hoping to achieve the same success and happiness. Ultimately, however, the desire for imitation and competition leads to conflict and tragedy, which helps highlight the dangerous potential of unchecked mimetic desire. Business leaders can learn from this, too, by finding ways to channel desire positively — fostering healthy competition and collaboration.
Giraud’s theory offers a roadmap for understanding the power of imitation, and so achieving success. With the right strategies, leaders can leverage it to their teams to achieve greatness and take companies to the next level.