Are you a good role model

Cranfield School of Management

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Are you a Good Role Model?
By Steve Macaulay

Are you a good example for others to follow? Role modelling is a part and parcel of the way organisations function and for excellent organisations to succeed, yet it is often an implicit and unrecognised activity. All of us would do well to understand more about role modelling and to develop ourselves as role models: it encourages behaviours which lead to a more effective organisation and helps us to be more aware of ourselves.

What does it mean to be a role model? A role model is someone who serves as an example, whose behaviour is emulated by other people and consistently leads by example. Many of us have leadership roles, even though we see ourselves as specialists or professionals, yet we have probably never received guidance on how to set the example for others to follow.

Have you got what it takes to be a role model?

The strength of a role model is likely to depend on valued professional experience and knowledge of the organisation, coupled with strong communication skills, including listening and the ability to build rapport. Research indicates that the biggest influence on employee engagement is an individual’s direct line manager.

What is the value of role models?

Role modelling is a useful means to provide continuity and maintain high standards to be passed on to others. Explicit role modelling can be thought-provoking for the role model, too- it can help develop a guide to one's own behaviour. Role modelling consists of much more than other people observing and copying the role model. A role model should not require someone to mirror every aspect of themselves, there is scope for individuality. For example, to create a customer-centric organisation, powerful role models help people to see how they personally should take time for the customer in lots of day-to-day ways. Customer friendly role models can be observed empathising with the customer, taking personal responsibility and going the extra mile.

Leaders who are good role models not only pay attention to their individual acts, they encourage teamwork and co-operation, support others in their growth and development, and recognise the positive behaviours and attitudes they display.

A good role model will facilitate the kind of organisation where other people learn from each other and change over time.

Watch out for contradictions

Role models put the spotlight on contradictions between word and deed. One company developed a set of values and behaviours to encourage a customer-friendly organisation, particularly promoting the concept of team working across the business. But these behaviours never took root because senior managers’ behaviour actively promoted a sense of rivalry and lack of cooperation.

Peer role modelling

A head teacher in a primary school was always exhorting her colleagues to be innovative and bold. Fortunately, after two years of frustration on both sides, and following feedback from both staff and external advisers, the head began adopting a new more productive and consistent strategy which focused on peer role modelling. Teachers started to feel more in charge and enthusiastic. The head saw people develop pockets of good practice and this encouraged other people to find out how and why it worked and the benefits in their classrooms. This was much more successful than the previous strategy.

Points for Successful Role Modelling

  • Self-reflection. Self-reflection is the first stage: what is it that you are modelling? How sound is it? Consider public behaviour but also behaviour outside the public gaze. Assess the current impact that role modelling is having.
  • Develop a clear view. What sort of role model is right for the individual, organisation and external contacts? There is no single template of a role model applicable to all organisations.
  • Discuss and agree. If you want to foster a certain climate in your organisation, discuss and agree the place of role modelling to promote defined skills, attitudes and behaviours.
  • Variety of role models. Look out for the variety of role models that exist and take account that they exist at all levels, not just at a managerial one. Consider diversity: if role modelling is at least in part about identifying with individuals, not everyone in a diverse workforce will identify with a white, middle-aged male manager.
  • Communicate expectations. Communicate with others what standards you expect, ensuring you consistently apply those standards. For example, praise behaviours you want to encourage, notice how consistent you are.
  • Walk the talk. Be mindful of how you represent your team to others; be consistent and talk positively about your team.
  • People skills. Be aware of and seek to develop people skills so that leaders are best able to use the opportunities for role modelling to coach, nurture and motivate others.

Steve Macaulay is a Learning Development Executive within the Centre for Customised Executive Development of the School of Management.


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