Leadership Role Models Feb 13

Leadership Role Models

"Think global, but act local" is not just a phrase for sustainability; it also can be applied to how we behave as leaders. It turns out our most important role models are "local". They are the people with whom we interact and have contact with the most.


Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner continually want to know who leaders view as their role models for leadership. What is striking about their collected data is that given categories from which to choose, most leaders over age 30 report that a family member has had the most influence on them (46%). Business leaders or direct supervisors account for 23%, followed by teachers or coaches at 14%. These are the people we learn from.


Carol Dweck, a social psychologist at Stanford, adds to this inquiry in her studies on the difference between individuals who have a growth mindset compared to those with a fixed mindset. If we see leadership as something we can learn and a skill we can acquire, our role models have a greater positive influence on our behavior. One of the basic foundational beliefs of The Leadership Challenge model is that extraordinary leaders are constant learners and that this mindset is necessary for effective leading.


We can draw two conclusions from these observations: 1) Our role models from our youth continue to influence our values and behaviors as leaders, and 2) they become integrated into or compared with those in our professional world who also affect us most closely, our managers.


As a leader, do you believe that you continue to learn from your role models? The questions below may prompt some thought and discovery.

  1. The most important role model from my past or present is:
  2. The lessons or messages about leadership that I learned are:
  3. Is leadership something I can learn?

By reflecting on these inquiries, you'll likely be thankful for people who have inspired and motivated you along your developmental path. Sometimes our role models taught us lessons that were not spoken but observable—they modeled the way by "walking the talk." Kouzes and Posner's research would concur: "The life you lead is the legacy you leave."


Holly Seaton, Ph.D., is a Coaching Practice Leader and Leadership Challenge® Workshop Facilitator with Sonoma Leadership Systems. The in-house coach for all Open Enrollment Leadership Challenge® Workshops, (http://sonomaleadership.com/attend-workshop/) she focuses on LPI feedback, leader follow-up, and leadership next-steps and best practices. She can be reached at holly@sonomaleadership.com.


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