Episode: Leadership and the Law of Replication

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Michael Hyatt: To begin today’s program I want to share a story with you, and it’s a story from my childhood. It begins in an unlikely place: South Korea. My dad, Robert Hyatt, served in the United States Marine Corps in the early 1950s, and that was during the height of the Korean War. It was a conflict that cost over a million lives (36,000 Americans, by the way) who were wounded or left dead or had permanent disabilities.

My dad served as a gunner on a tank, and in that role one of the things he had to do was periodically clean the tank. He and one of his buddies were out on the tank one day cleaning the gun when there was an incoming missile that blew up, and my dad got hit with some shrapnel. It knocked him out. In fact, he was in a coma for months. His buddy was killed. It altered his life in a very dramatic way because it was a very severe hit injury. It left him with a limp he walks with to this day.

Well, as a young boy, I didn’t know anything about the war. I didn’t know anything about the injury. I just wasn’t old enough to be aware of that. But what happened was I started inadvertently walking with a limp myself. So much so my mom finally, when I was about 5 years old, called me aside, put her arm around me, and said, “Michael, is there a reason why you’re walking with a limp? Did you hurt yourself?” I said, “No.” She kind of figured it out.

She said, “Oh. So you’re walking with a limp because Dad walks with a limp?” I said, “Yeah, I guess.” I wasn’t even conscious of it. Looking up to my dad as the model of adult manhood, I thought that’s what men do: they limp. My mom said, “Son, you don’t have to limp. Your dad is that way because of a war injury he got.” She explained it to me. I probably kept walking with a limp for a while after that, but eventually I realized that wasn’t something I had to continue to do.

Well, that early experience really shaped what I’ve come to believe about leadership, and it has proven true throughout my life. Whether you realize it or not, you’re going to reproduce yourself in those around you. Though I no longer walk with a limp, my dad’s character, his resilience, his lifelong commitment to my mom, his positive outlook on life, and his unbridled curiosity about literally everything has profoundly shaped who I am. I really think this is a lesson all leaders can benefit from. For better or worse, you’re going to replicate yourself in your organization. The only question is whether you’ll do it intentionally.

Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael:  And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode, we’re going to talk about leadership and the law of replication, and I’m going to show you why it’s vital for leaders to model the behaviors they want to see in others.

Megan: This is the second of two episodes on character, so if you missed last week’s discussion be sure to download it. Today we’re going to explore the law of replication, which simply states you get what you model. We’ll share four reasons why every leader must consistently model good character. Plus we’ll have a brief visit from Christian Miller, author of The Character Gap, and we’ll wrap up the program with some practical tips for creating a culture of integrity in your organization. Dad, first of all, let me say I love that story about you and Pappy.

Michael: It’s interesting how this happens, whether you’re aware of it or not, and for good or for bad. What is good about your character is going to be replicated and what’s bad about your character is going to be replicated, and you have to look no further than your own children to see this.

Megan: I was going to say. Man, if you want to test whether or not this is true, just look at your kids. When my son says a bad word from the back seat, where do you think he got it?

Michael: Exactly. Not that that would happen, but you’re saying theoretically.

Megan: Yeah, theoretically.

Michael: This is one of those things where if we can be intentional about it we have suddenly a powerful tool to shape culture, and I think it’s one of the things that, as leaders, we need to harness. Woe to the leader who is not aware of what’s happening, because I’ve seen this happen in many organizations too. It’s how culture is created. Like Larry Bossidy says, it’s nothing more than the behavior of its leaders. That’s what culture is.

Megan: It happens more often than not that it’s unconscious, so there’s a real advantage if you’re able to bring it into the forefront of your mind and create it intentionally. Then you have the chance to create something really great. Well, you’ve identified four reasons why every leader should model good character, so let’s go ahead and talk about the first one.

Michael: The first one is character has consequences. There’s something about our culture right now that tries to dismiss this, that acts as if competence is enough, but character does matter. Character is a little bit of a longer play, because you can sacrifice character in the short-term as long as you’re competent, but it eventually catches up with you.

Last episode we were talking about the definition from The Character Gap that Christian Miller made, that good character is when you do the right thing (so, be kind or generous or whatever) in the right way (in other words, with integrity or humility) for the right reason (for others, not self-gain) all the time (consistently, even when no one sees or there’s nothing to gain). That is a very high bar.

Megan: It is a very high bar. I thought when you were sharing that, “Man, that’s enough to keep you busy for a while.”

Michael: It is. Recently we had a chance to talk with Christian, and he said more about what character is and why it’s important.

Christian Miller: Our character is our moral fiber. It’s what leads us to think, feel, and act in morally relevant ways. First of all, I think it really matters to individual people to develop good character. This is true for a number of reasons. One is that character actually benefits us. The better your character, research studies have found, the more likely your quality of life will improve. For example, when gratitude goes up, life satisfaction goes up and anxiety goes down.

When hope goes up, worrying about the future goes down. There are these correlations between good character traits and actually living a better life, so it’s in our self-interest. It helps us. There’s more to it than just benefiting ourselves. Good character actually makes a positive difference in the world. Wouldn’t you want to live in a world, in a society, and work for a company where people are honest, trustworthy, and don’t cheat or lie or steal behind your back?

Think about how important it would be to a company to have employees who are honest, trustworthy, and loyal. That contributes so much to the health of that company, to the flourishing of that company, and not just because it avoids corruption or getting in trouble but because it creates a healthy environment where people can enjoy coming to work and not have to worry about bad behavior that’s going on behind the scenes.

Michael: One of the fascinating things about what Christian said is that character has personal consequences. There was a series of recent studies that demonstrate people who display greater character strengths have greater satisfaction in their relationships, greater coping skills in the workplace, higher productivity, better exercise habits, and greater resilience. All from character.

Megan: That’s amazing. I also loved what he said about the impacts to the organization. When he was talking about character, I thought what good character does, on the part of leadership for the team and on the part of the team to the leadership, is it creates an environment of trust. When people have an environment of trust both directions they feel safe, and when people feel safe they perform well. So I think character is important not just because it’s right but because it’s also effective at building a sense of felt safety and trust in an organization.

Michael: Great point.

Megan: Conversely, negative behavior or a lack of character impacts everyone in an organization. Think of that crazy story of the CEO of Theranos. She was charged with fraud. This start-up blood-testing company claimed to have a revolutionary technology. I remember when this was all taking off. I was so pumped because she was a young female leader, and I thought it was amazing.

Basically, the SEC charged her, along with the top executives in her company, of exaggerating or making false statements about the technology they supposedly developed that was so revolutionary (which apparently was not in the end) and also their financial performance. In the end, her net worth was estimated at the beginning of that project in 2014 at $4.5 billion, and by 2016 it was zero.

Michael: Yeah, that’s what you call a bad day on the stock market.

Megan: Talk about a fall from grace. That was rough.

Michael: That story shows the inseparable link between character and even something as practical as your finances. There are going to be repercussions in the real world. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Well done is better than well said,” and it’s a very good point.

Megan: It is a very good point. So what do you think are the reasons why it’s so tempting for people to ignore this law of replication and sort of dismiss that character matters?

Michael: I think in one sense people just aren’t even aware of it. They don’t understand this dynamic when it’s happening. It’s largely invisible. In our own organization, there are probably people who, like it or not, pick up some of my mannerisms, some of the cadences of my speech. I’ve seen it happen in organization after organization.

You know, certain vocabulary we use inside with our team, certain ways we express ourselves, because it’s culture, and that’s how culture shows up. One of the things about culture is it’s a little bit like fish swimming in the water. They’re unaware of their environment. Replication is a culture-producing phenomenon, so a lot of leaders are unaware of it.

Megan: I think we’re also just obsessed with success. We live in a time and a culture that values success and achievement above everything else, so unless you’ve been trained or were raised with a moral compass around this stuff, it’s not a natural part of something you would consider as a part of success.

Michael: In fact, we’re encouraged to separate them. It’s almost like what somebody does in their personal life shouldn’t matter. As long as they’re delivering the goods and performing successfully, we can dismiss or ignore those things of personal character. But unfortunately, personal character has a way of becoming public and in a way that’s usually ugly and has consequences for everyone.

Megan: Right. Well, the things that enable you to make good or bad decisions in your personal life probably aren’t different from the things that inform your decision making in a professional context.

Michael: Exactly. And if you betray people in your personal life, you’re probably going to betray them in your public life.

Megan: Okay. That was the first reason for leaders to set a good example, which is that character has consequences. What’s the second reason?

Michael: The leader sets the tone for the organization. Again, this modeling is not always formal. It’s not like you go in and say, “Here’s how I’m going to talk. Here’s what I’m going to believe. Here’s how I’m going to express myself.” It’s more often caught than taught. Take the example of Amazon. Do you remember this back in 2015? There was a New York Times article that described the culture as bruising. Late night meetings and emails were common. Reports of adults crying after meetings.

The company seemed bent on pushing employees to get more and more done. That’s not the result of one rogue manager. That’s the tone at the top. That’s the culture that’s coming down from the top. Now I don’t know if you read any of the follow-up articles, but there were a lot of Amazon employees who denied that was happening. Who really knows? I wasn’t there, but I think it still illustrates the point.

It’s the tone at the top. That’s going to set the tone for the entire organization. By the way, that’s how you fix these problems. It has to be fixed at the top. If you’re in an organization where the culture is adverse, you can still affect it below you (I’ve done this personally myself), but it’s a lot easier if the people at the top will take responsibility, realize their impact, and begin to change their behavior.

Megan: We were actually coaching someone in one of our activation workshops last week, and we were talking about this very thing. Somebody was talking about a person on their team who wouldn’t take time off, and it was really frustrating to her. She was trying to figure out how to lead this person to get her to take more time off. We were just talking about the fact that if you, as the leader, are not modeling that yourself…

You will never have people on your team do something you don’t give yourself permission to do in the positive. For example, if you are checking emails on your vacation, they’ll assume that’s what you expect. If you don’t take PTO, they’ll assume that’s what you expect. If you stay at the office until 7:00 p.m., they’ll assume that’s what you expect. You have to set the pace. Whatever behavior you allow in yourself is a communication of what you expect from your team.

Michael: Certainly that’s how they interpret it. You may not be aware of it, but that’s how they interpret it.

Megan: And it doesn’t really matter what you mean; it only matters what you communicate.

Michael: Totally. If you’re always late to meetings or if you sit in meetings and don’t take notes or if you sit in a meeting and you’re on your smartphone the entire time… I remember being in meetings like that with people who were one time on my board. Literally, they’re on their smartphones the entire time. We’re making a presentation, and then 20 minutes into the presentation they asked a question that was answered in the very first few minutes of the presentation simply because they were sidetracked on their smartphone.

Megan: It communicates such disrespect. Those are the little areas where you’re creating your culture, and if you’re not careful they will build a culture you never intend.

Michael: Exactly.

Megan: So, Dad, talk specifically about how here at Michael Hyatt & Company our leadership team has modeled a few of our core values, including unyielding integrity, prioritizing people, infectious enthusiasm, and highly responsive.

Michael: Again, it begins with us as the leaders of the company. For example, with unyielding integrity… By the way, what integrity is from our definition is that we make our actions line up with our words. So if we make a promise to our customers or make a commitment to a vendor we fulfill that even if it’s difficult, inconvenient, or expensive.

For example, when we shipped the first edition of the Full Focus Planner, one of the things we realized was we weren’t going to meet the shipping deadline and our customers weren’t going to get the planner in time for the quarter start. So we had to make the decision… By the way, this was not our fault. This wasn’t even the printer’s fault. It went back to a supplier way up on the food chain somewhere.

As a result, we were late delivering, or at least there was a threat of us being late delivering this planner to our customers. So we made the decision to incur about $50,000 worth of priority shipping costs in order to fulfill the promise we had made. We were committed to making our actions line up with our words even though it was expensive.

Megan: And that’s not money we ever got back. That was a true cost we had to incur.

Michael: And we didn’t even tell our customers that. We didn’t say, “Oh…” Like we were doing something heroic. No, we were just fulfilling what we had committed ourselves to do.

Megan: I love that story. I didn’t love it, honestly, at the time, but I love it now in retrospect, because what I think has happened for our people is that now becomes kind of a guidepost when they’re thinking about future issues that come up. It’s sort of like, “Well, we did it back then. We were willing to really put ourselves out there and incur some consequences to honor our word, so we’re going to keep doing that.” It really sets the standard, and it’s part of our cultural memory at this point.

I want to pause for just a minute to talk about something we’re really excited about here at Michael Hyatt & Company.

Michael: The Full Focus Planner is a paper planner. Yes, a paper planner, analogue, throwback, but it’s designed to link your big yearly goals with your day-to-day tasks. In our consulting and coaching practice, what we’ve found with our clients is they often set goals but don’t have a way to make those operational. They don’t have a way where the rubber meets the road that they can actually put it on their task list and make daily, meaningful progress toward their goals. The Full Focus Planner is designed to help you do that and to keep you productive every day. Each of these planners is outfitted for a 90-day cycle, so, basically, one planner per quarter.

Megan: Love that.

Michael: If you get an annual subscription you can get four planners a year, one for each quarter, and they’re shipped to you automatically, so it’s a big deal when you get your planner. We call it an activation trigger. Just a prompting to plan that quarter, to identify what you want to accomplish, and then to actually begin to implement that.

That’s honestly the best way to do it. It’s also cheaper if you get the annual subscription. You can buy an individual planner if you want, but both options come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. All you need to do is go to and pick the option that’s right for you.

Megan: So the second reason for leaders to model good character is that the leader sets the tone for the organization. Let’s move on to the third reason, Dad.

Michael: The third reason is people do what you do regardless of what you say. In other words, your actions are much louder than your words.

Megan: So true.

Michael: I used to work for this guy who insisted on punctuality and starting his meetings on time. I would go to my meetings with him, and I swear he would keep me waiting 15, 30, 45 minutes outside his office.

Megan: What?

Michael: Yeah. He would always make this big speech when he had his meetings that you had to be there on time, and I did that. I was there on time, but then I noticed over time everybody got sloppy with the starting times of their meetings.

Megan: Right. Because he wasn’t going to be there to notice.

Michael: Right. This is where I first learned to hate meetings, because of one leader’s sloppy practice. Because he wasn’t doing what he said and insisted other people do it. But that’s not how it works. People do what you do. This plays out in large and small ways: promptings at meetings (which I mentioned), taking unplugged time off, following expense reporting procedures, being responsive to messages, valuing the customer or how you treat the customer.

All this stuff people on your team are watching, and they’re taking their cues from you. Not from your words but what you actually do. If you need proof, there was this study published by the University of Nebraska that examined the impact of teacher behavior on students’ learning and well being, and it found that negative teacher behavior negatively impacted student outcomes. Positive teacher behavior correlated to higher achievement in students, and this included students’ effective responses, things like worry and anxiety. Every parent knows this, and it’s true at work also.

Megan: I think you’re right. That made me think about one of the most common issues of character, which is hypocrisy. Like you said, your boss was saying one thing to you about punctuality and then held himself to a different standard. How do you think that really breeds cynicism in an organization?

Michael: Well, because people see the gap between your word and your actions, and they go, “Those two things don’t line up.” There’s sort of this visceral reaction all of us have to that. It happens in the public places. It happens in work. We see it as hypocrisy, and it just makes us cynical. People start thinking that’s how all leaders are. That’s how all corporate CEOs are. That’s how all politicians are.

Megan: Anybody with power, basically.

Michael: That’s right. Because they don’t have to do what they say they’re going to do. They can enforce or coerce the rest of us, but they don’t actually have to keep it. But when you do meet a leader who does their best to live up to what they say they believe or what they value, that has an impact on people.

Megan: I agree. That’s a really good point you just made, that there’s no external force that requires good character. This is really an issue of self-leadership. It’s not something anyone else is holding you to. I mean, your team is, but you don’t have to do it. It is literally a choice about how you want to behave and if you’re going to behave in a way that has integrity with great character. The decision is really if you are going to exercise self-leadership or not, because nobody is going to make you do it.

Michael: When I became the CEO of Thomas Nelson, one of the things Sam Moore, my predecessor, said to me was, “Before you make any decision, ask yourself the question, ‘If this were printed in the New York Times tomorrow, how would I feel about it?’” It’s a good litmus test, but at the same time I don’t think that should be the standard that drives us. In other words, “If this becomes public, how will I feel?” There ought to be an inner compass, that we do it even when nobody is looking. Even if this never gets out, this is my standard of behavior. This is what I’m holding myself to, regardless.

Megan: The truth is those are going to be most of your decisions. Most of your decisions, there’s very little threat that they’ll become public, and mostly no one is going to hold you accountable except yourself. It’s really going to be the cumulative effect of all of your choices over time that defines your character and creates the culture of your organization.

Michael: That’s a good point.

Megan: So far we’ve talked about three reasons for a leader to model good character: character matters, the leader sets the tone for the organization, and people do what you do regardless of what you say. Now I’m a little curious about the fourth one, especially the word nearly, Dad.

Michael: The law of replication is nearly impossible to break. This is an example of what some call prudential wisdom. In other words, it’s generally true. You nearly always get what you model, but there’s hope for those who are trying to change. If you’re in a negative culture, be the exception. I have personal experience with this. I’ve been in negative cultures, not just one time but multiple times. You have the choice, “Either I’m going to go with the culture, or I’m going to stand for something different and try to model something different.”

Last week, we mentioned three ways to guard your character. We talked about developing a strong moral compass. We talked about seeking accountability, making one good choice at a time, but going against culture will be a test of your moral compass. In other words, you’re not going to have the external support that forces you or encourages you to make the right decisions and exhibit the right character, but you need that support and that accountability.

If you set a bad example, you can change, and it begins by acknowledging this to yourself. You have to get real. At some point you have to say, “Look, I have not exercised self-leadership. I’ve not always made the right decision for the right reasons. I’ve not always exhibited the right behavior, and I’m going to own that and apologize to others as needed.”

Some of the leaders who have had the biggest impact on me in my career have been leaders who have come to me voluntarily and apologized for something. You know, acknowledge that what they did was wrong and not try to make excuses, tell me how they understand or express empathy that they know how that impacted me or the organization, and then to ask my forgiveness. It’s a powerful thing when it happens. It hasn’t happened too much, but my esteem for those people went way up when it did happen. So you can begin behaving with integrity now. I guess that’s the bottom line.

Megan: Okay, along those lines… I’m thinking really practically. To contrast with your story about the boss who was always late to the meetings, is it helpful to set standards for yourself around your behavior that are very particular? For example, “I’ll be on time to meetings. I don’t accept from myself being late.” Is it helpful to almost write a list of those things?

Michael: Totally. You can call these your behavioral standards or your standards of compliance or just standards. What are some of those non-negotiables? (I’ve called them that before as well.) The problem with leaders is this: We get busy. We have a lot of pressure, and it’s easy to start making excuses. “I’m the exception.” Every leader I’ve met who has gotten into trouble (and I’ve published a couple of autobiographies of leaders who got into deep trouble) said when they started treating themselves as an exception to the rule, that’s when they started to slide.

Megan: That’s so true.

Michael: Like, “Everybody else has to do this thing, but not me. Everybody else we expect to not incur personal expenses and put them on their expense report, but, hey, I’m working extra hours. I’m under more stress.”

Megan: “I deserve this.” It’s dangerous.

Michael: Whenever you start having that attitude of entitlement, it’s a slippery slope.

Megan: It is. Can you give me some more examples of things in your own life, standards you have for yourself that have helped to ensure you exercise good character?

Michael: In this environment, I’m very conscious of how I treat the opposite sex. I don’t want to do anything that could be construed as flirtatious or inappropriate, whether it’s in something I say or something I do. That’s a standard I hold myself to. Another standard I have is I never say anything negative about your mother in public. If I have an issue with her, I talk to her privately. I always speak well of her in public. The great thing about that… You know because you’ve heard me do it.

I brag on her. It’s great adultery repellant, because it kind of puts everybody on notice that I am very committed to my wife, that we’ve been married for 40 years, and don’t even think about it. Another one I have is a two-drink rule. Somebody told me early in my career… By the way, some people don’t drink, some people drink way too much, but I’ve found that to have some limit, some governor on what you’re going to do just keeps you out of a lot of trouble. That’s just a rule I’ve always followed my entire career.

Megan: If you think about stories you hear about people, very often they get in trouble and compromise their character after they have had too much to drink in a professional setting. That kind of goes back up your list to other issues in terms of adultery or whatever else. You basically want to be in a situation where you have the benefit of your best thinking. You have your wits about you. You can make good decisions and not have that be compromised. So that’s what your guideline for yourself is that really helps that.

Michael: Again, the point is you need to set standards for yourself (those are just a few examples among many) of how you’re going to operate in the world and how you’re going to show up and what you’re going to do in public and what you’re going to do with your team present, because they are going to watch. They are going to replicate those things.

One of the things we didn’t talk about is oftentimes they get amplified. If you’re late 5 minutes, some people are going to take license to be late 10 minutes or 15 minutes or 30 minutes or whatever. So you have to be very careful. I think you have to be tougher on yourself than you are even on the people you work with.

Megan: You’re very strict with yourself on keeping your word. That’s another thing that’s really important to you. If you give somebody your word that you’re going to meet with them or be on a podcast or something like that, it’s very important to you to follow through and to handle that with integrity. The same is true for being responsive, to honor other people’s time and get them what they need. You always respond quickly.

Those are two other things that came to mind as I was thinking of your standards. Those are just some good areas to think about, if you’re listening… What might your standards be? They don’t have to be the same, but you need to be intentional about it so you can hold yourself to a standard that’s in alignment with your values.

Michael: Exactly. This, by the way, goes back to values need to be descriptive, not prescriptive. People talk a lot about corporate culture and corporate values, and sometimes people make aspirational values, like, “We want to be like this.” It’s actually better if they describe how you are. In other words, if you prioritize people, that’s a great corporate value to have. If you’re committed to unyielding integrity in your personal life, that’s a good corporate thing, but it’s not good to have it an aspirational thing that you’re not practicing. Here’s why. That will create cynicism, because people will look at that value and say, “Well, you don’t practice that.”

Megan: They’ll see the gap.

Michael: They’ll see the gap.

Megan: Today we’ve talked about leadership and the law of replication, and we’ve learned you get what you model, so every leader must set the example for character and culture in their organization. As we come in for a landing, I just want to remind you it’s up to you. As a leader, you shape the culture around you. Be the change you want to see in your organization. Dad, do you have any final thoughts for us today?

Michael: Yeah, I do. I was thinking how this all comes back to self-leadership. Albert Schweitzer has this quote, “Example is leadership.” If you can lead yourself, you’re going to have a positive impact on other people. If you can’t lead yourself, then all of the communication tools, all of the leadership tips and strategies aren’t going to do you a lot of good. It comes back to being able to lead yourself and being the model, the prototype, of what you’re trying to build.

Megan: Couldn’t agree more. As we close, I want to thank our sponsor LeaderBox. It provides automated personal development in a box. Check it out at If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes and a full transcript online at

Michael: Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. If you like the show, please tell your friends and colleagues about it, and also please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts.

Megan: This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.

Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller and Lawrence Wilson.

Megan: Our recording engineer is Mike Burns.

Michael: Our production assistant is Aleshia Curry.

Megan: And our intern is Winston.

Michael: We invite you to join us for another episode next week, when we’ll discuss a revolutionary technology you have to implement in your leadership. Until then, lead to win.