Role Models

A role model is someone you look up to. Someone you deeply respect. Someone who’s behavior you’re interested in emulating. A role model helps demonstrate excellence in areas you’re deeply interested in and passionate about. Observing them, learning from them, and replicating their behaviors is a compelling way to hone your own skill set. Role models can show up in your personal and professional life.

It’s incredibly valuable and important to have role models at work. In fact, I believe the presence of a credible role model at work is likely to be a significant factor in your engagement and organizational buy-in over time. When you work in an organization where you look upwards and lack respect for the senior individual’s behaviors, in the long run it will become extremely tough to remain bought in at the organization. It’s particularly important to find strong role models early in your career, when you’re joining a new company, or starting in a new role. When the learning curve is steep, role models can be essential to understanding what “great” looks like.

Role models can be very different than you. You don’t necessarily need to find someone you want to emulate in ALL aspects of life, nor does a role model need to have a similar background to you. I have certainly worked with people I would consider to be excellent role models for whom I’ve had no appetite to emulate their personal life. Unlike a mentor, you don’t even need to have a relationship with a role model. It’s more about what you see in the person’s behavior than it is about receiving specific and direct advice.

To use a personal example, I began reading Fred Wilson’s daily blog in 2011 and continued to read it for over a decade (he started to post infrequently in the last few years). His blog covered technology, VC investing, and personal anecdotes. While not perfect, I enjoyed the tone, length, and content such that I remained engaged for over a decade and was inspired to do more writing myself. I found a great role model despite having never met Fred.

Being self-aware about the types of people you view as role models (and why) can also help inform your own interests, motivations, and values. If you’re continually drawn to a certain type of individual, based on either their educational background or career trajectory, it might be an important factor in helping inform where you see your own career developing.

To use a simple example, let’s say you start out in a new role in the marketing department. Over time, you realize you don’t really consider any of the senior marketing leaders to be role models, but you do find many of the Sales leaders to be role models. That’s a good opportunity for self-reflection. Is the reason you see the Sales leaders as role models because of their behaviors? Or their deep expertise in an area that may be more interesting to you? Role models can help guide your own path.