Project Description

When uncovering characteristics that great leaders share, typically participants in a training class will say, “Great leaders are good role models.” I don’t remember a single discussion on this topic where that characteristic was not mentioned.

And I’m thinking, yeah….but what does that really mean?

I mean early in my leadership days when I was climbing the corporate ladder, I was a role model. I worked endlessly, long hours with a never-ending intensity that had me frequently ignoring my family, my friends and my life. I took on every challenge presented with a focus and passion unequaled (my humble observation) by others. I was tireless. Committed. Achieving.

Yup, I was a role model for hard work.

What was I teaching? In hindsight, I certainly wasn’t modeling a healthy balance in life. And I was (probably, well, honestly yes actually) missing opportunities to empower and delegate to others. Clinging to work and new challenges to show how it could be done. See employees–this is how you create burn out! Watch me do it! This is how you miss the fact that your sister is moving and the whole family is there, and you didn’t even know it. Schmuck.

So, when I hear leaders or emerging leaders say that they want to be a good role model, okay I get it. I believe what they’re saying is that we should do what we expect from others. Align our words and actions. Be honest, reliable, authentic, transparent or many other amazing characteristics that we long for from our leaders.

I think we need to be more intentional with this strategy. Those who lead with the, “I want to be a good role model” strategy, without clarity about what is to be modeled, or even if that characteristic is valued or noticed by others—may fall short in getting their followers to follow.

Just because I am passionate about my work does not mean others will be. Just because I am honest and direct does not translate into others behaving in this same manner. I can be modelling all kinds of behaviors, things that I believe are essential ingredients to success. And others can choose to ignore them. Crap.

So, should you stop trying to be a role model? Heck no, (that title was to get your attention after all) knock yourself out. And I mean that, be the one who shows how it’s done. How people should be treated. How effective results can be achieved with hard work and persistence. But don’t expect that others will automatically model the same. Be clear in the kinds of behaviors you are modelling and what you expect from others. And yes, align those words with actions.

Be amazing. On purpose. Be a role model just because you can. Even if others don’t do the same.