We work with many people who set the right example. They may not be perfect but there is something about them we want to emulate. Take a careful look at them and see what styles and skills may work for you. Seek out the great things they have that you can grab hold of and add to your own abilities.
When it comes to role models, we sometimes think in singular terms. We pick out the one person we want to be most like and sometimes try to emulate them. This narrows down our own potential and might pigeonhole what we are trying to accomplish. Seek out multiple role models who have a wide variety of skills. A diverse set of role models will open more possibilities for adoption into your own routine and expand your proficiency. As stated in an earlier passage, you want to maintain your own uniqueness and it is important to maintain your differentiating factors. We don’t want you looking to be a clone or a wannabe, but we would be leaving an opportunity on the table if we didn’t become keen observers to role models around us. We can always find best practices to share and pick up good habits and styles that work for us.
A role model differs from a mentor because there is typically less interaction—or the opposite, constant interaction because you work closely with them. Whether you are monitoring them from up close or afar, you should take note of what makes them successful.
My first real taste in a role model was a peer of mine named John. John was the person who swapped jobs with me when I was told I needed to do something different after my first managerial stint. John was a computer programmer who was looking for a change. I was the manager not cutting it in the eyes of the leadership. Apparently, the timing was perfect. I disliked John for a variety of reasons. First, he was right next door and I saw every move he made. Second, he was a nice guy and people seemed to be having fun and working harder for him than they had for me. I realized my distaste was actually jealousy. I began to watch him from next door with a new lens and began to learn what I had done wrong when I had overseen the team.
Many of the things he was doing to earn the respect of the people came down to managing the details. He was spending individual time with the people and maximizing his floor presence. He was practicing what I now see as fundamental in people management but was too close—or too inexperienced—to practice it when I first started managing. I was learning to study John in action, and it was fascinating. I began to understand that he was an unintentional role model who was teaching me. Watching his success early on was hard for me. As the years went on, I started to do what I had seen him do and began to see my own similar success. I began to make sure that I included this story in all of my mentoring sessions and leadership teaching sessions.
I have since targeted other role models based on my specific needs. The person who first called me a cynic has taught me about accountability, ownership, and leadership. At a social gathering, my wife asked him what he liked about his job. His response was simple and concise. He said, “I like being accountable. I like making decisions.” He is a true leader who understands that people depend on his direction and his ability to make decisions and then act on them. He is also a fantastic leader and communicator who can rally a group of people to go on any difficult mission together. In the worst of times, people turn to him for a clear and motivational message that leaves no question as to which way they should go.
I have a good friend who I met early in my career. He taught me how to be selfless and giving. Additionally, he was the person who looked past all of the negative perceptions others had of me. He took a chance on me when I was young and inexperienced. He took an active approach to listen to my ideas and wanted to know my opinions to make the business better. He trusted me and respected me, even when I still felt people were out to get me. He gave me a sense of confidence that I truly could be a leader.
There are countless other role models who have taught me the value of technical job knowledge and being an industry leader in certain banking fields. There are other leaders who have taught me the value of being straightforward and speaking from the heart. There are still others who inspire me and give me confidence just by watching them.
There is also a small pocket of people you observe, and say to yourself, “I don’t want to be like them.” This group of people may be just as valuable for your own growth. When I was struggling in a trial position leading a group of managers, I could not seem to communicate well with my boss. I believe this was due to the fear factor he instilled in me. He attempted to drive my performance by yelling and screaming at me in the hopes that this fear would make me do things better. If he had just understood my wants, needs, and expectations, he would have figured out that I would work hard and do the job anyway. He could have put his efforts and wasted energy elsewhere to make the team better.
Instead, there was constant pressure put on me. His favorite routine, or game, seemed to happen every Friday afternoon around five o’clock P.M. He would call me to come to see him in his office. Apparently, after a very long week, he wanted to ensure that I had a miserable weekend of fuming over his last instructions or put-downs regarding what I hadn’t accomplished during the week. I vowed I would never be like him. He became my role model antithesis.
Another role model I worked for was bright and he knew how to dig deep into a business to reduce expenses and increase profits. He also lacked people skills and held on to original opinions for a long time. Once he formulated an opinion of you it was virtually permanent. As I learned the basics of running larger operations from him, I still struggled early in my career in grasping the people-management skills. He was not afraid to make me aware of this shortcoming. The irony was that he could observe poor people skills, but didn’t ever see them in himself. When I finally got out from under his management and saw some success managing others, he refused to see any of my growth or acknowledge any of my recent accomplishments. I had an interview with him about five years later for a job overseeing a fairly large unit. He only continued to bring up my failures from those days when I had been inexperienced and directly working for him. He said (paraphrased), “It sounds like you have done some good things, but I can’t get past the time when you…” He must have mentioned my past on at least three occasions. In the middle of the interview, he said he was hungry and wanted to go to the café to grab a sandwich. I had to have a walking interview while he took care of himself. He lacked the ability to have an open mind or change judgments of me, and still had no self-awareness or was just pompous. After he refused to give me the job in his area, I vowed to never be like that. He was the perfect negative role model. I knew I had to begin to withhold my personal judgments of others, see other people’s growth, and be willing to give people second chances.
We have the advantage of seeing what goes on around us each day. Use these observations as a tool for your own development. Watch the people around you with a critical eye, and become aware of the diverse and sheer number of role models surrounding you. They will teach you a lot about who you are and who you can be. In some cases, you will acknowledge characteristics from people you want to emulate, and in other cases, find the characteristics you want to avoid. Be on the lookout for your next teaching moment—your role model may be right there in front of you.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com. Book, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only) purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com