We all need role models in our lives. Think back to your early days in sports…you most likely had a star athlete that inspired you and fueled your dreams. Think back to your early days as a parent…you most likely knew of someone in your friend group or a neighbour that was the great parent you aspired to be.
The same is true in work and leadership. We all can think of role models that have been connected to our professional experiences. They come in many forms, and they play different roles for us. They are an essential part of the journey and have a tremendous impact on how we learn and grow in our careers.
It’s Not What – It’s How
When we think about those role models, we can often call out their accomplishments and put a gold star against the surface-level things like their title or salaries. But if we pause and really think about them, we don’t recall their achievements or their awards or material things like their title, earnings or car they drove. We don’t remember WHAT they did or had.
We remember HOW they did it. We create an imprint of the role modeling they provided.
I’ve had many role models as leaders in my career…too many to roll call in this blog. But the one that comes to mind in this context a great dude named André Tremblay. He was the President of Fido (an innovator in wireless communications), a company I worked with in the late 90’s. He was one of the first leaders of a big business that I had the opportunity to get to know and be in his presence. And even though it only lasted for a few years, the role modelling André imparted on me was important.
André was fun. He carried himself with a positivity and ease that I admired. He had a way of making people feel comfortable in his presence that was inspiring. He communicated vision and purpose in a way that you really remembered. You felt no matter where the journey of this fledgling company was going to lead us, you wanted André to be at the front of the pack and you wanted to follow him.
As I moved forward in my career and found myself leading bigger teams, I often thought of André. I always wanted to emulate his style of leadership that was human, positive, and grounded in humility.
They’re Always Watching
Here’s the rub. As a leader, the camera is always rolling. Your team, your peers, and others across your organization have a constant eye on you. No, it’s not listed in the job description, but you must accept it as a core part of your requirement when you lead people. Your ability to regulate emotions, model self-care, be human-centric in all your work, and demonstrate empathy are constantly being absorbed and modelled by your team. The ripple effect is more like a wave that rolls forward under its own power. The leader who sends the negative and snappy email on a Sunday night at 10:30pm will pay a hefty price. The punishment is then having to manage through a team that carries these sub-optimal habits and behaviours forward. On the flip side, the leader who shows care and support for their team even under the most challenging circumstances will be rewarded with loyalty and commitment.
So, you’re a leader, and that means you’re a role model! If that feels intimidating or unclear, here’s three direct ways that you can reframe role modeling to make you a stronger leader:
1. Be Known as a Listener, Not a Talker
We appreciate and admire the leaders who are strong motivators, orators and speechifiers who have a great presentation and speaking style. But under the surface, what’s more valuable and motivating is a leader who is a great listener. Leaders who demonstrate active listening, give people their full and complete attention, and are fully present for every conversation and interaction are the real gamechangers. They connect with people on a human level. They demonstrate respect, care and natural curiosity through the power of their ears, not their mouths.
2. Be Humble
Leadership by force and direction is long gone. Anyone still reaching for these false sources of power is running out of time to survive as a leader. They’re unlikely to retain their teams during The Great Resignation, which will be the final nail in their professional coffins. The evolved and thoughtful leader is humble, and has the awareness to admit they can benefit from the ideas and thoughts of their team, and has the courage to tap into that power. A humble leader is the subtle role model who can have profound impact on retention, trust, innovation, and so much more.
3. Lead Yourself Well
Being a role-model starts here. Self-leadership is the practice of understanding who you are, how you want to show up, and what impact you want to make. It’s grounded in high levels of self-awareness and fortified by elements like self-care and self-confidence — inside and outside of work. Leaders who lead themselves well are by definition leading a life worth living others would want to emulate. They provide the highest level of inspiration when it comes to role modeling. They are the target that we should always be aiming for.
When you think of a role model in your career, who comes to mind? Why do they come to mind?
Yesterday, how much talking did you do vs how much listening?
What are your team observing of your self-leadership right now? Where would you want to improve?