Recently, while flipping through Twitter, a post unexpectedly stopped me in my tracks. “It’s gotta be straight, dad,” read the tweet. The words formed the caption on a picture of a young boy straightening his father’s mortar board during his PhD graduation.
“A boy proud of his dad and secure in his love,” ended the message.
Staring at that tweet, I was moved as I pictured my kids doing the same. It made me wonder: Am I a role model to each of my five children? Am I a role model leader? I hoped so, because to the boy in that tweet, his dad wasn’t just a role model, he was a hero.
That got me contemplating the idea of leaders being heroes, not for the sake of being worshipped, but for the sake of inspiring their teams. Of course, I would cringe if you set out to be recognized as a hero, but equally, I would cheer for you if you did such a great job that your team wanted to emulate you.
Defining the credentials
But what exactly is a role model leader, I pondered. Struggling to find the answer, I decided to ask around. The responses I received indicated that a model leader is someone you aspire to be like in the future - yet this was still vague to me. Deciding to delve deeper, I asked the question to some notable business leaders, and here is the role model they described:
* A role model leader is someone others learn from. Employees have a very high desire to learn. They crave a leader who teaches them more and creates an environment where they can grow. What is ironic is that most organizations still hire technical experts for management and leadership roles.
It is one thing to “buy” skills, but it is more impactful to hire a skill builder.
* A role model leader challenges people to be the best, to strive for excellence. They have very high standards and are unwilling to back down from them. They are not shy about putting in extra effort to deliver higher quality and do more than is asked.
Additionally, they recognize the potential in their teams and believe in them. While their pursuit of excellence is a stretch, role model leaders build confidence in their employees so they can achieve it.
* A role model leader is approachable. Rather than sitting in the office behind a closed door, they are out with people. They move beyond saying, “I have an open door” and head out into the passageway where the troops are.
Being approachable for a role model leader does not just mean that people can come to them (which can be intimidating), they go to their teams.
* Some leaders argue that “fun” does not have a place in work, but a role model leader makes hard work and long hours inviting and enjoyable. They realize that when their teams have a good time, they are more willing to put in extra effort, and with extra effort comes greater productivity.
* A role more leader is loyal and protective of their people, and someone who has their employees’ backs.
The leader who offered the latter description told how one employee said of his boss, “When I sleep at night, I know that I am safe in their hands.” I must admit in my twenty-plus years of leadership research; I have not heard many leaders described this way.
Last but not least, a role model leader is not a jerk, said one respondent (though in much stronger language). Enough said.
Interestingly, when I asked the same leaders to describe the “anti-role model” leader, their answers were almost instantaneous. Straight away, they dove into what leaders do wrong and didn’t hold back from naming names.
For me, this raised an important question: Do our workforces have more “anti-role model” leaders than leadership heroes? And here is a question for you: Which would your team say you are?
Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered Leadership and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.