Role models: relevant to everyday performanceI’m coaching a client who is transitioning from senior technical expert to CEO of his small business. We’ve discussed his leadership style before. The catch here for him is that his understanding is evolving and he was at a loss for words to describe his current style. He has always been clear that he is a visionary but what about using high touch, collaboration, inviting truth telling and clear communication? So, we started to talk about the CEO’s and business people that he admires and wishes to emulate.

And that’s when I got to wondering…are roles models really useful on a daily basis?

Don’t get  me wrong. Role models serve an important purpose. They provide us with both inspiration and a roadmap. Basically everyone has a biography of some sort. You can read a published account of someone’s life, Google the person and/or ask questions directly. But how do they really do that thing you are aspiring to?

People aren’t perfect

It’s so easy to put someone on a pedestal. Think about the people you admire. We don’t really know that person. Take someone like Donald Trump. Sure, he’s on television and is well known for his real estate acumen. You might read about him, listen to what he says and take a class from Trump University. People tell me that they admire how he acts so confidently even when he is so close to bankruptcy. But what do you really know about him? Would it matter if he were rude or cruel?

What happens when you learn something unpleasant or ugly about your role model? There is that moment when one is faced with the idea of the person and the real life person. Can you overlook the fact he or she is human and not perfect? It may be possible to extract what is meaningful to you and suggest that your role model works very hard to behave in a certain way. Then again, the transgression may be too abhorrent to you.

Looking for a role model

So what makes us identify certain people as inspiring to us? Certainly, their story can be one possible starting point. We’ve heard so many rags to riches stories and each person who has accomplished this has qualities worth of emulation. Could it be that we see role models to get us through certain stages of development? If you founded a business and emphasized innovation, you might want to learn about Bill Gore, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Maybe you are a woman in business and aspire to rise to the top of the business world or politics so you might read lists like Forbes Power Women. Perhaps there is a boss who is so adept at his/her profession that you felt as if you are apprenticing to him/her.

Throughout our lives, we find people who are extraordinary and study them so we can be like them. This is part of how we form our identities. Over the years, we have different experiences and different choices and seek to navigate them successfully. It makes sense to add and subtract to our list of role models. They may be fictional characters, celebrities, known industry experts or people within our sphere who embody greatness.

But I’m back to my original question…how are they relevant to our everyday performance?

We know the big stuff they have accomplished. What did they do on Tuesday morning at 9:08am? When we are working on an audacious goal, there are moments when we are discouraged. We may lose faith (even for a moment). We may even encounter obstacles we didn’t anticipate and this throws us off track. And it could be that we just don’t know how to act or execute a particular skill and this slows us down. Do our role models give us the big picture or a how-to manual?

So, I’m opening up these questions to you. We’ll be discussing this topic on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog on Friday, September 16th at 12pm ET/5pm BST/9am PT so I hope you can join us. If not, please add your thoughts below.

1. How do you identify someone as a role model? What qualities do you look for?

2. What is the difference between idolizing someone and using them as a model?

3. What role does gender play in your choices of role models?

4. Are we more likely to seek role models in good times or bad? Why?

5. How do you use a role model when for everyday performance?