Where are our (senior) role models?

There has been something niggling away at the back of my brain for a while now. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Until this week. Something happened which finally freed the thought and brought realisation.

It was something that I used to take for granted, but which seems to have disappeared. My role models are no longer at a senior level, some are but not many.

This isn’t something I have noticed happening. I have many memories of people who have inspired me, driven me to be better, given me a target to aim for and identified skills that I want to emulate. Recently though I have noticed these are rarely people at a senior level within an organisation.

This year is the 30th year I have been working, over that time there has been a fairly substantial change in working practices and the dynamics of working. In my first role we used to call only our close colleagues by their first names, everyone else was Mr or Mrs Whoever.

Senior managers and execs were distant, they were part of the structure but rarely heard from or encountered. Certainly I don’t remember any of them (other than Sir John Harvey-Jones) who were charismatic or made me want to aspire to their position. The organisations I worked for were hierarchical with a divide between workers and managers (there was a separate canteen for those above a certain grade).

Over time this had changed and a new breed emerged. Those barriers were broken and people became more collegiate. With this came, for me anyway, a group of people, in positions which seemed more attainable, with characters and skills that were appealing to me. I wanted to be more like them.

Now, I am incredibly lucky. I have worked with, and still work with, some amazingly talented people. Many of them, probably without even knowing, have or continue to inspire me. I have a lot of role models around me.

What I am noticing though, across a number of organisations that I work with, follow the fortunes of, or have friends who work at, is that these role models are becoming less senior.

There are less Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Ed Catmull characters out there. There are, within structures, less people I want to emulate and more that I definitely don’t.

This also seems to be linked to organisations reverting back to being more hierarchical and returning back to older practices. Is this related to the economy or the fact that business is a tough place in an uncertain world right now?

To reiterate there are a lot of positive role models out there still. In my daydreaming moments I even like to hope that I may be one of them.

I think the issue is that there are not many senior people I encounter in person, through LinkedIn, press or social media who are bringing that inspiration. The people who I see on social media are younger, self motivated and self starting. They are on their journey and although they are inspiring, their journeys are different to mine.

This could be because it isn’t seen as important, or they may not see a reason to have visibility. Maybe it is their age or stage of their career. Maybe they just don’t undrstand that they are or could be role models to others at earlier stages in their career.

A lot of managers are. A whole lot of brave people embarking on setting up their own businesses are. But those who should be inspiring and developing a whole generation of execs and leaders aren’t.

When you look in your organisation are you seeing any?
Do you work with any?
Who is your inspiration or role model?

2 thoughts on “Where are our (senior) role models?

  1. matthewjrichardson April 1, 2019 / 11:04 am

    I think there is a huge difference between leaders and managers. Often, in first line supervisor roles, the latter is valued by organisations more due to administrative burden. Not necessarily the way it should be. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cloud and Sunshine April 1, 2019 / 12:34 pm

    Times have changed and so have people. Gone are the days when people used to dedicate their whole life for the greater good. People have become selfish these days!

    Liked by 1 person

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