Leaders of character are authentic. They know who they are and what the values and beliefs are that drive their choices. Their actions align with their values both in business and beyond as they courageously lead by their own greatness. Rather than imitating the "best practices" of others they set the bar for best practice, and leave their competitors striving to emulate them. They do not look over their shoulder at what their competitors are doing because that just places a cap on what they themselves could be doing.
I was so happy to see Daniel Pink's comments on best practice in his review of Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor's book, Practically Radical: Not-so-crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself. Daniel writes about Bill's resolution to "look for new ideas in new places":
One of the benefits that good consultants can often bring to organizations is their cross-industry experience. Often prospective consulting clients ask us at Lapin International whether we specialize in their specific industry. We have chosen not to specialize but to develop our practice across a wide spectrum of global industries. This enables us to bring learning to one industry that was discovered in another. The process of adapting the learning from one industry to another, unleashes exhilarating innovation. For example, we applied principles and method from the work we did developing an enterprise-wide leadership brand for an investment bank, to developing individual leadership brands for a global food manufacturer and distributor. We could never hope to teach our clients much about their business or even their own industries; they are more specialist in that than we could ever hope to be. We can bring them new ways to look at their business, its leadership and industry positioning, as well as learnings from very different industries, because, as Daniel Pink rightly says: "Strategies and practices that are routine in one industry can be revolutionary when they migrate to another field."
The more I study innovation, the less enamored I become of "benchmarking" the competition. What good is it to compare yourself against "best practice" in your field, especially if "best practice" isn't that great to begin with? The most creative leaders aspire to learn from people and organizations far outside their field as a way to shake things up and make real change. Strategies and practices that are routine in one industry can be revolutionary when they migrate to another field.