Role models – what are they and how do we choose them

This is a post I promised a lot of people I would write a long time ago, the draft was started in March, and I sit here in June completing it. So what took me so long? This post more than ever I wanted to get right, but then I realised it never would be, so I just need to get on and post it.

Role models are a common thread in my posts, often referred to as a colleague, an old boss, or named role models. My life and career has been influenced massively by role models, good and bad.

What is a role model?

Well the dictionary definition of a role model is:
  1. a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated.

But for me it is far more than that. A role model is someone who sparks something in you. Maybe you want to imitate them, or learn and display the same behaviours, perhaps you want to follow the same career path, mirror their rise.

The main quality in a role model that I look for is someone that makes me want to be a better version of myself. With some, this is through adapting and learning from their good values, qualities and behaviours. With others it is showing me exactly what I don’t want to do, be and the effects I don’t want to have on others.

Both kinds are equally as important in their own ways, after all knowing what you don’t want to be/do is just as important as knowing what you do.

How do I choose my role models?

Sometimes this can be really easy, you meet someone, see them in action, recognise their strengths and qualities and you want to imitate them. Either you have already seen enough to know or you do more research and discover more about them.

If they are someone that you work with or interact with on a regular basis you can further investigate their qualities through proximity and experience. If they are more distant then you can do research on line, through LinkedIn or corporate websites, TED Talks, publications etc.

Some will have written books or published articles in trade press and beyond, I follow the blogs of a number of people who in some ways are role models. On LinkedIn I follow people and review their articles when they publish.

How do I use them?

There are various ways, and as above these usually depend on proximity.

I read blogs, publications and books from people who I think are my role models. I am a voracious reader, recently I have started listening to Audiobooks in my free time (usually walking to/from work, and when I am concentrating on a task in the office) in order to gain as much learning as I can. Some of my role models post videos either on social media or TED talks etc.

For the ones I see regularly it is even more simple, I observe, I follow their journeys. Most importantly I interact, for many they will have no idea that they are my role models. Our interactions are no different, I ask questions and seek their guidance, but in no way do I as them directly. They probably have no idea that they inspire me, push me to develop and be the best that I can.

How do you know if you are one?

I was intrigued by this question when I was asked it. The easy answer is that I don’t know. Many people who are role models will have no idea.

It would be really great if I could tell you here a list of things to look out for, signs, signals, conversations etc. But I can’t.

What I would say is, I have had a conversation with someone who said I inspired them, and that they modelled some of my behaviours. After initially feeling very embarrassed I was very pleased. However had we not had that conversation I would never have known.

So sorry, I can’t help out here, but if you have any suggestions on how you may know, I would love to hear them, so drop a comment.

Who are my role models?

There are oh so many of these.
Obvious ones that I talk about a lot
Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull I talk about a lot, their ways of thinking, working, challenging, pushing boundaries and looking to get the best from individuals and groups constantly inspire me.

David M Kelly from IDEO design thinking has changed my life since I discovered it, listening to interviews with David on his interactions with Jobs showed me two great minds working with each other. I subscribe to a number of IDEO newsletters and journals.

Guy Martin is a northern truck mechanic, successful Motorbike racer, TV presenter. His inquisitive mind, the way he wants to keep learning, they way he pushes himself to achieve more, alongside being a jolly nice normal bloke you would love to run into in the pub and have a good chat.

But in my day to day life there are several.
I’m not going to name them, as they will know who they are.
Someone who has been through adversity, and has formed a not for profit as a result.
People I work with in my team, in the call centre that is part of my organisation. My team push boundaries a lot, several people in the contact centre push for success, against the odds and all the processes and roadblocks, as a result we have great social media and Incident Management teams.

In recent times the number of brave people, giving up some amazing careers, to go off and start their own businesses doing things that they love, Coffee Shops, Cafes, Bakers, Cake Makers, Breweries, Street Food Markets, the list goes on. They inspire me every single day.

Most of all my family and friends. Whether they know it or not, these are the most important. The ones still alive and with us, and the ones sadly gone. Not only do they act as role models, but they inspire me to be the best version of me that I can be. Their stories, journeys, hardships and sacrifices.

So who are your role models?
Have you thought about them?
Have you ever wondered if you are someone else’s role model?

2 thoughts on “Role models – what are they and how do we choose them

  1. smugfacelazybones June 9, 2019 / 4:53 pm

    There was a thread on Twitter a while back asking people in HE to name their role models and two people named me. I was utterly gobsmacked – but so delighted, especially as they were people whose work I really admired. I guess it’s like influencers – if you have to give the label to yourself, you probably don’t deserve it!


    • Pete Greensmith June 9, 2019 / 4:56 pm

      I think the best people to be role models are those who don’t know/wouldn’t say they were. They obviously have something about them and work/inspire as a natural talent. Brilliant.

      You have definitely inspired me in the past.


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