How Role Models Reshape Companies

Written by Vladimir Tosic

Corporate and Startup Leader. Culture builder. Marketer and product designer.

October 24, 2023

Leadership   |   Management   |   Mindset

Image by: Naassom Azevedo from Pixabay

Before captchas and two-factor authentification, internet veterans had to use an interesting method of protection called a „security question“. The procedure was to write down a question that you will always be able to answer. The question was usually – please write the name of your first school teacher. I always found it intriguing that all around the world, no matter their language or their cultural background people would remember the name of the person who taught them to read and write decades ago. We could forget the names of our classmates, the name of the street where our first school was located, but not the name of our first teahcer. Such is the power of role models.

If you are lucky you will have more than one role model in your life, and I will go as far as to say that that is necessary.

It could be a parent, a sibling, a kind relative, a friend, or a teacher. Less talked about but equally important, it could be your colleague or your boss. Role models are determinantal to a successful career, not simply because having a cheerleader at work feels good, but because it can help us choose a career path, and learn how to navigate it. Role models are more than teachers or supporters. They are lighthouses that can guide individuals or organizations toward maximizing their potential.


Lead, don’t push

A study published in the Journal of Economic Psychology showed that having role models was associated with career maturity, one of the great predictors of success. It also showed that role models were a huge factor in entrepreneurship.

Having career pressure without guidance from a mentor was negatively associated with career maturity. The prevalence of role models as key factors in career decision-making became so obvious for the academic community that they now actively seek out successful people and encourage them to be guest lecturers at courses to increase student attendance and motivation.

If a role model can make a hungover student drag themselves to a morning lecture, imagine what they could do for your sales department! 


The trickle-down effect

All role models are good leaders but not all leaders are good role models. Keep that in mind next time you promote someone to management. One of the ways the company culture is formed is through something called the trickle-down effect. It means that the behavior used by team leaders will be copied by their subordinates. If a manager comes to work late and leaves early it will take just a couple of months for the entire team to start checking out the moment he leaves the building. The same goes for the positives. 

Anyone can write down core values on a blackboard but it will be just empty words until someone starts enforcing them.

Role models don’t enforce – they embody, which is why they are gems in each organization.


Your secret cheerleader

Role models are connectors, they share their knowledge and influence. This by definition gives them a strong personal brand. Many things will be changed by AI, but the one thing ChatGPT won’t be able to do is to recommend you for promotion or say to the project leader at lunchbreak: I have this kid on my team, he’s not bad, give him a chance.

Role models are also office influencers. They can form alliances across teams or counties and can be crucial when you are forming a crew for new ventures. The ones who train people also tend to retain people, and those who know how to grow individuals command a very rare kind of loyalty.


Role Models Create More Role Models

Role models support innovation, know how to communicate clearly, and are selfless with their help and guidance. Remember the trickle-down effect? Who do you think will be more successful at creating the next generation of your company’s leaders, the office bully or another role model? Exactly.

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