Five reasons to have a role model – and how to get one
When you’re in unfamiliar waters like your first leadership role or anticipating a big step up, a role model can help with the leadership persona you are developing. Role models are really important for developing your professional identity because:
They make leadership transitions feel safer because you can see what is possible
They help you not feel like such an imposter
They let you try on different outfits to see if they suit you or not
They give you a positive, going-toward mindset because you are inspired to be like them
They fuel your courage, you have chosen that role model as they link to your values and aspirations
I often ask my clients to consider their entire career, and how their professional persona has developed and how that happened. Most were able to remember early on someone they liked and admired, who was ‘in charge’ or doing amazing things. And that ‘someone’ made their aspirations possible.
The challenge for women is that with fewer women at senior levels than men, being able to identify and identify WITH a role model can be challenging. Much of my career was looking around me and thinking “I don’t want to be that person”. Or “I couldn’t POSSIBLY be that person”.
So how can we bring to life the value of role models if this is how we feel – that the role models available to us are either unattainable or unattractive?
Go create one. It doesn’t have to be one person, it doesn’t have to be a female. Create a composite if you can’t find the person. You can create your own unique mosaic, piece by piece. An avatar if you like. Notice the things you value and admire in leaders and how they are executed with skill. Then practice those things. For example, I really like the way she walks the floor like that, I rate how he manages meetings and conflict in the room, he’s masterful at distilling the issue for people, she is great at getting us to view it from the mountain, she’s always looking through the lens of the customer, he’s so generous with his praise, she’s funny and light just at the right times, he is so adept at calling out bad behaviour…
Stop comparing yourself to others, focussing on the gap between you and your ideal and worrying about not measuring up. Start copying and working on imagining and practicing a possible self that is both attainable and congruent with who you are.
Performance artist Hetain Patel in his TED Talk called ‘Who Am I? Think Again’, talked about imitation and experimentation often revealing something unique about ourselves. He also explored how most of us are composites of behaviours and approaches we have copied or practiced before, and that if these work for us, they become embedded in our persona. There are significant parallels to be drawn between what Patel says, and the development of leadership capability.
When you have been promoted into a new leadership position accept that it’s going to take a while for that to feel natural. In the meantime, experiment and feel reassured that with a role model in your mind, and/or in your life, you can be more conscious about what you’re moving towards and what you are leaving behind. You’re not being a fake, the people around you will be expecting you to behave differently, that’s what leadership is!
If you have a role model that’s great, really use that person to fuel your courage and your capability, if you don’t, then create one. Give it a shot. And let me know how it goes.