31 May 2013

The Leader as a Role Model

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."
John Quincy Adams

As a Leader you are in the Spotlight.  People watch what you do and how you do it.  They scrutinize your every move, looking for cracks in your leadership armour. Why?  Because you set the standard for them.  Role models help people to define what’s acceptable and what’s not.

A role model is someone we look up to, learn from and hope to be like.  Whatever we call them (our heroes, idols, mentors) they epitomize what we aspire to. We look to them for guidance as we shape our own identity.  They give us a blueprint for action and living. They give us a sense of hope, of what’s possible in our own lives. They even guide our decision making.

Your role models might include a family member or friend, a business leader, coach, manager or teacher. Interestingly, research by Kouzes and Posner* shows that for leaders over the age of 30, family members have the greatest influence on our leadership style (46%), followed by business leaders and direct supervisors (23%), then teachers and coaches (14%). 

A well known story (often attributed to Zig Ziglar) demonstrates the legacy of behaviour learnt from our role models:  


A young woman was preparing a ham dinner. After she cut off the end of the ham, she placed it
in a pan for baking. Her husband asked her, "Why do you always cut off the end of the ham?" to which she replied, "I really don't know but my mother always did."  Later, the husband asked his wife’s mother why she cut off the end of the ham before baking it.  His mother-in-law replied, "I really don't know, but that's the way my mom always did it”.  A few weeks later while visiting the grandmother, the husband asked his wife’s Grandma “Why is it that you cut off the end of a ham before you bake it?”  To which she replied, "Well dear, otherwise it would never fit into my baking pan." 


Role models teach us valuable lessons, either through their actions or their words, which influence our own values and behaviours throughout our lives. These lessons may or may not serve us well, depending on our choice of role model.


Lessons from our role models become integrated into our own repertoire of leadership behaviours. Some of these are effective, some not. So choose your role models carefully.  Question what you’ve learned and whether it serves you well or limits your performance. 


Equally as importantly, be aware of your own impact on others who see you as a role model.  You carry a great responsibility as a leader and role model, with your actions and behaviours having a lasting impact on those around you.  The script for the words and behaviour that you model for others will often be carried with them throughout their entire lives.

Every word you say, every action you take, is teaching those you lead.  By default, you are impacting on their future.  By intention, you must make those lessons positive and beneficial.


To become a worthy role model:

1.    Engage in self reflection. Are you exhibiting the standards you can be proud of, and that you expect of others?

2.    Communicate your vision and expectations clearly: Do you let people know what you’re heading toward and why so they can decide if its the right path for them?

3.    Be open to learning and other viewpoints: Are you open to new ideas and better ways of doing things so you continually evolve to the best version of yourself? 

4.    Be empathetic and compassionate: Do you consider the impact you have on others?  Are you showing care and being fully present in your relationships?


Questions for reflection:

Your Role Models:
·         Who is your most important role model, either from your past or in your life now? What leadership lessons have you learnt from them? 
·         Is what you’ve learnt helping or hindering your leadership potential?

You as a Role Model:
·         What are you doing to demonstrate positive leadership behaviors that serve as positive role modeling for those who surround you? 
·         What are you teaching others through your words and actions?



* Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of ‘The Leadership Challenge’, researched the people that leaders learn from, with respondents given categories from which to choose their major influencers.