January 27, 2020
Who is your role model? Or perhaps the question should be, who are your role models? Why are these people your role models, and what have you learned from them? I’ve been reflecting on this topic of role models recently, because of some work I’ve been doing with leadership teams. An exercise that we’ve been doing has been exactly the question I asked you. Now, a role model is someone we look up to. Someone who guides us. Someone with whom we have a sense of connection. Some of the role models may be people we know intimately. It could be our parents, a teacher, a university professor, a sports coach, a neighbour. Sometimes role models are people that we hold at a distance, and they may be people like Nelson Mandela, or Abraham Lincoln, or Washington, or Thatcher, or Marie Curie, or Florence Nightingale. Because there are attributes of that individual for whom you find attractive.
Nelson Mandela has always been a role model of mine, and I remember listening to him speak at a public gathering when he came to Melbourne in 2006. It was really very inspirational for me. Now, the question becomes, what is the relevance of role models for us as global leaders? Well, I’d like you to consider that you are a role model. Whether you know it or not, you are a role model. Implicitly or explicitly, as a leader people look up to you. They look at what you say, how you talk, how you interact, what you value, and they take their cues from you. As a global leader, and specifically when we are dealing with people of different cultural backgrounds, it’s really important for us to think about, ‘How am I coming across?’ Or alternatively, ‘How do I know who the role models in that particular culture are?’ Because every culture has heroes. Just as national cultures have heroes, organisations have heroes.
Organisational heroes are the people we want to have as role models, because we can create examples of that. Here is a reflection point for you, and I’d like to pose it as an activity. With your team, ask them the question, who is their role model? You can ask them, who is their role model about a specific topic. For instance, you can say, ‘Let’s talk about safety. When it comes to safety, who is a role model, and why are they a role model for you?’ Or perhaps you can talk about performance, or perhaps timeliness, or perhaps leadership. Choose a topic, and ask them what, or who is their role model, and why is that person for you, a role model? That will create a list of attributes that are important, which you can then reinforce. If you keep doing that, what that will help you do is actually embed those attributes as part of your team and organisational culture.
I mentioned that one of my role models is Nelson Mandela. I do love the poem that he recited at his inauguration as the first black president of South Africa. It was a poem written by Marian Williamson. I’d like to share it with you;
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure about you. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. Not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give permission to others to do the same. As we are liberated from our fears, our presence automatically liberates others.’