It’s sometimes difficult to see yourself as a leader. We can see it in CEOs, board members or managers, but not always in us. In reality, everyone can be a leader. It depends on what leadership means to you, and how you perceive yourself in relation to your definition of leadership. This is what we call the Leadership Identity. It starts with asking yourself a few questions to build awareness and create your own notion of leadership. Questions around your values, what’s important to you, and what inspires you are a great starting point. Another way to think about leaders is to change the word leader to role model. Leaders are role models who influence others to accomplish things they didn’t know they could do, to look further or deeper into themselves. No one is a leader 100% of their time. Even the most successful people are inspired by a family member, a friend, a mentor, someone they never met but whose values and accomplishments speak to them.
  • Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and current richest man in the world, said his role models are his grandfather, but also Thomas Edison for his inventions and Walt Disney for his ability to “create a vision that a large number of people shares.”
  • Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, wrote that his mentor was Dr. Bill Foege, an epidemiologist working for the Centers for Disease Control in the 1960s who elaborated a strategy that led to the eradication of smallpox.
  • Oprah Winfrey, TV tycoon, was inspired by another US TV talk show personality, Mary Tyler Moore.
  • Even Martin Luther King, who doesn’t need any introduction, cited Gandhi and Tolstoy as his inspirations.
A study was published in June 2013 by Pennsylvania State University-Erie researchers Michael Brown and Linda Treviño about the impact of childhood role models, mentors, and ethical leaders on workers. One of their findings is that having positive role models as a child doesn’t guarantee that you will carry on these learnings as an adult if your organisation doesn’t have ethical leaders.

The Brown and Treviño study shows that having adult role models, then, directly impacts not only how you perceive yourself but, just as importantly, how others perceive you.

Having a role model plays an important part in your personal development and your motivation to thrive. I want to share some tips for you to reflect on what it means to you.

Who is your role model?

Take a piece of paper, or open Word to take some notes as you think about the questions below.

1 | Your journey

  • First, take a moment to think about the different chapters of your life (childhood, teenagehood, when you were a young adult, any chapter that is relevant to you) and the different spheres (personal, professional, relationships, etc.)
  • You should come up with something that speaks to you and that represents your journey. There can be as many as you want.
  • Once you have the sections that are important to you, divide the page you are working on to leave enough space for each section.

2 | The influence

For each section, whether they are timebound or related to one area, answer the questions below:
  • What was your motivation, your drive, during this period of time or in that area of your life?
  • What did you dream of? What was the ideal scenario you (day)dreamed about?
  • What were your goals?
  • What challenge(s) did you overcome? How did you do it?
  • Who did you look up to? It can be anyone, from family members to historical figures.
  • What reasons did you look up to this person/these people for that specific time of your life/area of your life?
  • Who made you who you were during that time? How did they influence your being?
  • What values did they reinforce or help you develop?
  • What’s the impact of your life now? Are you still carrying on their influence? If so, how?

3 | Probe yourself and take time

When doing this exercise, make the effort of probing yourself by asking “what else, who else, why else” several times. We tend to be satisfied with the first answer, but the most meaningful things take more time to come up. Don’t be happy with the first answer you get. Give yourself a few days. Start taking notes, but then go on and do something else, sleep over it, take your mind of it. Your brain will keep processing this reflection unconsciously, making your answers deeper and more meaningful. Once you know the influences in your past and your current role models, it’s easier to identify what’s important to you, and what you can offer to others.

How to be a role model to others?

1 | It starts with self-awareness

It always starts with self-awareness. Know what made you who you are now, know your journey and where you want to go. I am not talking about what you think about who you are, but the brutal reality of the good, the bad and the ugly. Find support to build that awareness by asking people whom you know will tell you things as they are, not what you want to hear, and by listening to them. Be compassionate with yourself.

2 | Be authentic

Being authentic is being true to who you are and not being afraid of showing it to the world. It doesn’t mean not hiding anything or not having secrets. It means aligning your behaviours and your words to your core values.

3 | Ask yourself a few other questions

I know there are already quite a few questions to answer in this article. Self-reflection is an amazing way to check where you are with yourself. It fuels self-awareness as it raises potential conflicts and emotions you need to explore.
  • What’s the purpose of being a role model to you?
  • Why is it important to you?
  • What do you bring to the table?
  • Who are you/do you want to be a role model to?
  • What’s the legacy you want to leave?

4 | Share with others

There is not leadership without followership. There is no role modelling without others. Share your story, your skills, your passion, share who you are with others. Ask questions, listen more, support people find out who they are, define their goals, and reach them. I love this quote from Maya Angelou, I share it every time I advise people to talk less and listen more:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

5 | Be genuine and selfless

It’s not just about you anymore. It’s about the relationship you have with others whom you are influencing, that is what they get from you and what you get from them.