LEADERSHIP: What it is … what it is NOT! Part FOUR – Be a Role Model

Quote Pic. Jelly men boss on 2 staff shouldersPART FOUR – Be a Role Model


THE PURPOSE:  To inspire others to …  


Note: This blog is PART FOUR of the series entitled LEADERSHIP:  What it is … what it is NOT!  If you have not already done so, please read:

  •  PART ONE – The INTRO  - 4 blogs covering: The WHY,  The WHAT, The SO WHAT and The NOW WHAT 

As a reminder [given it's been a few weeks since my previous blogs in this series], I simplified the theory and frameworks on what it takes to be a GREAT leader , down to 3 core observable behaviours:

  1. Be trustworthy
  2. Lead and inspire change
  3. Be a role model

So this blog takes a look at number 3.  BE a ROLE MODEL

What is a Role Model? … Do you know one?

I admit that is a question I’ve struggled with all my life … “who is your role model? … who do you admire or model?” … yep, it brought up ‘blanks’ for me for many years.  Thankfully, in later years, I grew to understand why.  Sometimes we have to look deeper and more broadly, to research and step outside the square, to find people we admire and aspire to be like.  Sometimes the narrow world we grow up in, the small community thinking, the restrictive, repressive, judgemental  environments do not provide inspirational role models … only models of what ‘we don’t want to be like’. That in itself, was a real motivator to search more broadly.

I share more on my background in my soon-to-be released book … a personal journey of growth, strength, and the personal power that individuality brings …  entitled ‘Be a game changer – the world has enough followers’.

Suffice to say … out of all 3 of these observable leadership behaviours, I found this one the hardest to write about.  Sadly, it is because, in my view there are few great role models in leadership positions in recent years … and it is this broad lack of real leaders to model, that causes many talented, inspirational people NOT to aspire to representational leadership roles. “Who wants to be like that … to be associated with that ?” is a common response to my leadership coaching encouragement of others.

Lets break this down to the grass roots … the definition of a role model is:

An individual who is looked up to and revered by someone else. A role model is someone who other individuals aspire to be like, either in the present or in the future. A role model may be someone who you know and interact with on a regular basis, or may be someone who you’ve never met, such as a celebrity.  Commonly, role models may include well known actors, public  figures such as police or political officials, teachers or other educators, and parents or other family members.
[Business Dictionary - 2014]

Yes … to be clear … anyone in any position can be a looked upon as a role model by others.  You don’t have to be in a leadership position … you don’t have to be famous … you don’t have to be ‘perfect’ and never make mistakes.

However, if you are in a leadership position … and aspire to be a great leader … you know – trustworthy, an inspirational leader of change, a person who attracts followers and leads the way … then you’d better ensure that your leadership mindset is focused on the absolute personal responsibility of being a role model to others.  This comes from the inner core – your values, intent and purpose of being a leader.

Leaders lead and influence others … in fact, leadership is all about leading others. Role model leaders know that they ARE what they DO … ahh, the importance of observable behaviour again!

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams

Remember: people take the strongest message from observing your actions … in fact, 55% of the message comes from your actions [body language, gestures, facial expressions, etc] and only 7% from the actual words you speak. Yes … words ARE cheap!

Being a role model … just like the other 2 core observable behaviours I’ve described … is not something you turn on and off like a tap, for only when people are watching. I know … I’ve written that before … it is a key point that I am purposely emphasising.  I have also deliberately listed being role model as the 3rd behaviour, as I believe the first 2 are crucial elements that support and build strong role model status. Remember that I wrote about how being trustworthy forms the basis of a leader’s reputation … and once that’s lost, it’s gone.  Hmmm … so if people have lost trust in the leader, role model status will not be on the radar any time soon!

Here’s where EENIE makes another appearance!  - His leadership strategy is all about position and importance … needing to be popular, and enjoying anything that puts him in the ‘lime-light’ … it’s like he’s constantly giving a performance that shouts ‘look at me’ … but it is just a shiny outer shell.  You don’t have to scratch very deeply to discover unethical behaviour, back-room deals, people trodden on his path to ‘stardom’, and a whole lot of hot air with not much substance. Few regard him as role model material … and interestingly, he is very reluctant to search outside his kingdom to find role models or even acknowledge the higher achievement of other leaders. His driver is the power of his own self-importance, rather than empowering others.  No role model status here …

“Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others” – John Maxwell

Now, of course there is no specific list of ‘must do’ actions that is prescribed for ‘how to be a role model leader’. As it is behaviour based action [and observable], whether you are one or not is open to the perception of others [based on their values] and your own interpretation … or honest self-reflection.

I strongly believe that real leadership involves TWO parallel pathways … leading your ‘self’ and leading ‘others’.  Being a great leader of ‘self’ is an absolute ‘must do’ action for being a great role model. If you can’t take a lead role in your own life, you can’t effectively lead others.   Learning to be more self-aware is a strong component of the framework I use with my leadership coaching clients … taking the time to self-reflect and become more aware of how our choice of actions influence our own lives and outcomes, and also impact on those around us.

This is not about being self-centred … or so self-focused that everyone else is superfluous to your needs. A self-aware leader is not a self-obsessed leader.

Ha … a nice way to reintroduce MOLLY? … he’s the quiet one sneaking around in the shadows of EENIE and preferring to do his own thing behind closed doors and keep his distance … perhaps to keep his nose clean by way of disassociation … with seemingly no time for the great ‘unwashed’, he is quite self-absorbed . The fact that his behaviour is not open and transparent … and that clearly there has been some ‘itches being scratched’, some quiet manipulation and decisions made for self-interest outcomes rather than ’what’s best for community’ outcomes … means that trustworthiness is a glaring factor that potentially erodes Molly’s role model status also.

“Role models create a life that is good on the inside … not one that just looks good on the outside”

Now, MO is also no leadership role model either … and he’d probably be the first one to jokingly tell you that, laughing it off as a nonsense. He reminds me of one of those kids in the classroom that plays up as soon as the teachers back is turned … he still does that in community meetings! Life to him is about enjoying the ride and while he is a senior member on a leadership team, he’s happy to simply help out and let others do the heavy lifting.  It is a shame to waste the chance to be a real leader and role model to less experienced others. It is important for him to realise that his actions are being watched by others who may be aspiring to his position in future.  What message is he portraying to them about the role?

Only 3 things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership” – Peter Drucker

Back to the awareness pathways I mentioned earlier … the second one is being aware of how you are leading ‘others’.  The best way to gain knowledge of how you rate at leading others and the health of your role model status, is to actively seek regular performance feedback.  What’s that, you ask?  Performance what?

From my extensive experience working and observing government departments, one of the paradoxes I found hard to fathom was that the higher up the ladder a person rises, the less performance feedback he or she receives. Crazy!  They are they very ones that need it the most!  People are often afraid to give honest feedback … you know, tell it like it is.   Well, not me [as I'm sure you've already realised] … I am surprised at how often leaders [CEOs, Managers, Supervisors] think they are doing fine, not realizing that actually, they are not.  For this reason, I often build in a 360 degree leadership feedback assessment for my leadership coaching clients [those who try to sit in the chair of denial for too long].

Leadership is a relational skill … if you want to know the effectiveness of a leader, you need to ask those who are led by them. I’ve said it before, those in leadership positions are always being watched. A leaders behaviour sets the standards for interaction … how others relate to them and what behaviours are expected from them.  Yes MO … it does matter.

I love feedback … and learned a lot from gathering it over my years in leadership roles. Without it, I only have my own perception to go on. When you are open to feedback, and people know you take it on board and genuinely appreciate it … then I have found people will give it without fear … and without me having to ask for it.

That’s gold … that’s when you know they are observing your behaviour … and want to tell you how that is influencing them … what they are learning from your leadership … and how they aspire to be like that or do similar things.

That my friend … in a nutshell …  is being a role model.

So … I challenge YOU:


 I hope you’ve enjoyed this leadership series. Please provide feedback and comment.

BONUS … I have one more blog to write, to complete this series.   Has anyone noticed the absence of one of my ‘characters’ from the last 3 blog posts?  Yes … where’s Meenie been hiding?

Well I have a whole blog post dedicated to Meenie … that has nothing to do with the 3 core observable behaviours … for good reason.

Stay tuned.




  1. Wendy Kennedy says:

    Hello Jilinda, this is so true and very timely on my leadership journey. I would love more one on one coaching – could you send me some more info please. I so agree with your blog and sadly admit to slipping into Mo, Molly and Eenie when not ‘being present’ more then I would like. I have a great team and we can make such a difference and look forward to talking soon.

  2. jlee says:

    Hi Wendy, Thanks for your comments. One2one coaching and mentoring is the most effective way to build personal leadership capability. My most popular packaged product is ‘Vital Signs Leadership Development’ – which includes Social + Emotional Intelligence online assessment, comprehensive report and 6 x personal coaching sessions, plus follow up tips and tools. This can be very successfully delivered by Skype or over the phone. The outcomes have been amazing … and many clients ask to continue with 1 x month personal coaching sessions to keep them on track and continue learning.

    Please email me directly with your contact details and I will arrange a time to talk to you further.
    Jilinda Lee

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