MBAs will play many different roles during their lives. However, there is one role all MBAs have in common, one they play every day whether they want to or not. They serve as role models for others. In a previous MyeEMBA article, I suggested that knowing what roles people play provides a useful starting point for managing the daily and weekly activities of their lives so that there is a higher probability that they will achieve the things that matter most to them. However, most of us would not include being a role model as one of our priority roles. While we may have no choice about the people who select us as their role models, we can decide how we will behave when interacting with them. Intentionally deciding which behaviors to exhibit can have a significant impact on one’s career.
Role Model Fundamentals
A role model is a person whose behavior, example or success is or can be emulated by others (Dictionary.com). Thus, an MBA can behave in such a way that another person, perhaps a coworker, a direct report, a client or customer or even a casual observer starts emulating his or her behavior. The issue is that one may not know when he or she is serving as a role model; and perhaps of greater significance, is that the emulated behavior may be either desirable or undesirable. Accordingly, it is appropriate to be cognizant that in many situations an individual may be serving as a role model for someone, which means she may want to moderate her behavior in such a way that she serves as a positive role model. Doing so can be rewarding. However, it can also be challenging. Moreover, it has little to do with the activities in which one is involved, as much as it does with how one behaves when performing those activities. Each time you interact with another person or group of people, there is an opportunity for someone to observe your behavior and emulate it in the future.
Awareness of Modeled Behaviors
Serving as a role model requires a shift in focus, from one of prioritizing activities to one of dealing with the behaviors that are associated with doing those activities. This shift or increased awareness is especially important when it comes to activities of daily living, those things that we view as routine, habit, obligation or work. My experience is that an increased awareness of one’s behavior while performing these activities makes that person a better role model. I am sure that there are many ways to increase one’s awareness of his modeled behaviors. However, two ways that are easily used are self-assessment and associate feedback.
Self-assessment or reflection starts by identifying an encounter with an individual or group of individuals. The encounter can be as simple as a one-on-one meeting with a subordinate or as problematical as a work group meeting involving several people making complex decisions. Once identified, review how you interacted with the individual(s) involved and ask yourself the following two questions:
- What behavior(s) did I exhibit during the encounter that I would consider it an honor if others emulated?
- What behavior(s) did I exhibit during the encounter that I would find it disconcerting if others emulated?
The first few times you reflect on an encounter and answer these questions, you will likely identify one or two behaviors for each question. Self-awareness is the key. The objective is to continue behaving the way you want others to emulate and stop behaving in ways you find distressing if others were to copy you. Keep in mind that re-examining a single encounter may not be sufficient to identify a needed change. However, this approach can identify behavioral trends over time, and it can be useful in determining which changes to make. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of this approach depends on how much insight or awareness you have of your own behaviors and how you affect others.
Associate feedback is more appropriate for meetings involving more than one individual. However, the process is similar to the self-assessment approach, except you ask an associate involved in the encounter to express his or her opinion about how well you served as a role model to the other participants. The effectiveness of this tactic depends on the associate selected to comment. Generally, the more senior a person is or the more experience she has evaluating others, the more objective her opinion will be. Ask the associate to answer the following two questions:
- What behavior(s) did I exhibit during our meeting that you would consider as being good role model issues for others involved in the meeting?
- What behavior(s) did I exhibit during our meeting that you would consider not being good role model issues for others involved in the meeting?
The answers to these questions may lead to a conversation about your behavior that can be extremely helpful, as well. Over time, feedback from several different associates and multiple meetings can provide valuable information about the good behaviors – those to keep doing – and the not-so-good behaviors – those to stop doing. Furthermore, an ongoing stream of feedback from trusted sources provides the basis for a personal, continuous-improvement program.
The role model focus provides a useful way of improving one’s behavior and image, especially with those individuals you work or interact with regularly, such as co-workers, classmates, family members, etc. Even though this approach is self-directed, it can be very effective for those MBAs who have limited access to coaching and mentoring resources.
Is being a role model one of the roles you play? Do you have a way of monitoring your role model behaviors? Please share your thoughts with the MyeEMBA readers by adding a comment below.
I dedicate this article to the memory of my brother, Jonathan Dale Alsup, March 11, 1950 – August 3, 2014. Jon served as a role model for many, including me.
Dr. Rodney Alsup is the creator of the MyeEMBA blog. His goal is to help MBAs live and work smarter.