Finding Role Models and Inspiring Leadership In Unexpected Places

Role models can help you accelerate your career with tangible examples of success to emulate, a broader understanding of professional opportunities and a bigger vision of what’s possible. They can also boost success and satisfaction in other areas of life from parenting to training for a 5K. When you apply some creativity and an open-mind, you can find inspiring role models well beyond the C-Suite. Commit to exploring the power of role models and other key topics with like-minded colleagues traveling similar journeys through the Communities of Interest at the 2021 WFF Leadership Conference.
Leadership can emerge from unexpected places at the least likely times. Like observing frontline team members who manage to build loyalty and repeat business while addressing challenging customer concerns. Or, watching your son’s piano teacher orchestrate a virtual recital that makes every student and parent beam with pride. When you look for and recognize effective leadership in others, everyday moments can reveal powerful learnings and examples worth emulating.  
That approach of casting a wider net can be important for women, and especially women of color, who often do not have access to role models within their department or in senior leadership in their organization. Given the complexity and dynamic nature of careers today, it becomes even more important to have a diverse range of role models to help you advance, learn and grow. You can tap into a powerful network of role models at the 2021 WFF Leadership Conference via livestream and in person March 21-24 in Dallas.
“Role models can be found in various areas of your life who excel in a diverse range of skills you want to master, and who understand the specific challenges you may face,” says Janicka Green, SVP of Operations for Longhorn Steakhouse. Green will co-lead the Women of Color Community of Interest at the WFF Leadership Conference. “I’m looking forward to talking with other women of color about the importance of role models, how to develop an effective and supportive network and how to build the competencies that will enable them to take their careers to the next level.”
Consider these suggestions to help you identify role models and accelerate your learning curve.  
Look closely to find great examples of specific skills. “Instead of searching for the perfect role model, look for someone who is skilled in an area you need to develop,” explains Professor of Management at Babson College and author of Strategic Relationships at Work, Wendy Murphy, Ph.D., writing in Harvard Business Review online.
Although men can certainly serve as effective mentors and sponsors for women leaders, Murphy does not suggest modeling the same behaviors that work for them. “Women are sometimes punished for the same behavior men are rewarded for,” she cautions.
Look at women leaders you admire and observe how they conduct themselves with clients, coworkers and other leaders. Also consider modeling peers and those just a step ahead in their careers who are particularly strong in areas where you want to improve. They may also be more available and approachable as a resource than senior executives.
Focus on specific behaviors. You don’t have to be enamored with every aspect of someone’s leadership style to learn from their strong suits. If someone is an outstanding presenter, great at networking or successfully juggling remote work and young children, you can likely learn from her. “By identifying key behaviors and practices, you also become more systematic in the approaches you can experiment with to determine if they work for you,” Murphy says.
Test drive behaviors you value in others. Some techniques may feel awkward at first and may require some getting used to. Others may simply not suit you. Experimenting will help you know. You can also hone new behaviors first in non-work situations. If your dentist tends to talk right over you when you express a concern, that’s a perfect time to practice speaking up and making your voice and ideas heard.
Seek feedback from trusted colleagues, your supervisor or a mentor about how your new behaviors are being received. It’s difficult to open yourself to constructive criticism, but it is one of the quickest and most effective ways to learn. When you receive criticism, ask for more. 
Make learning an ongoing process. Continue to expand your sphere of role models and add new skill areas as you become more proficient in prior areas of focus. The WFF community is a prime place to start with members expressly committed to professional development, ongoing learning and the power of networking. Women’s networking groups within your organizations and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are also a great source.
REGISTER for the 2021 WFF Leadership Conference to access extensive opportunities to connect, grow and be inspired by talented women and subject matter experts across the Food Industry.

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