You Are Already a Role Model

At one point or another, you’ve probably encountered that expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Maybe you heard it as a kid from a weary coach, teacher or parent who knew they weren’t being their best self in the moment. It’s a bit like trying to convince someone the way you’re behaving in the moment isn’t the real you so they should just ignore it. Of course, you probably also know the one that goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” That’s the one that actually holds sway in the workplace and beyond.
A study published in the journal Work & Stress in 2020 followed 74 leaders and their 412 team members for almost two years. The researchers found that leaders who showed up to work when sick tended to have team members who showed up to work when they were sick too. The finding confirms those in other studies that have demonstrated how a leader’s health behaviors have consequences for employee health behaviors. Similar results have been found in a broad range of leader behaviors, including how those who model incivility and use toxic words tend to inspire similar behaviors in others.
Fortunately, in most work settings, leaders far more often model positive and supportive behaviors. And that matters. Because the data clearly show that, whether you think of yourself as a role model or not, if you lead people (and in many circumstances even if you don’t), you are a role model. Even among people at more junior levels in an organization, peers look to coworkers for examples of how to behave in the workplace, the best ways to get things done or to advance, and how colleagues should interact with one another.
People are watching
Especially as a female leader, you are already tuned in to searching out role models who inspire you and whose behaviors you may choose to emulate in your own way. But, do you also realize the daily impact you are having as a role model too? Research shows that, especially among people new to their roles, their direct supervisor has significant influence on how that person interacts with colleagues and the behaviors they see as acceptable in the workplace. Good behaviors get adopted, as well as negative ones.
Being intentional about the leaders you choose to model – and how your behaviors function in the same way for others – can help ensure you’re learning, adopting and modeling the best of what you’re seeing. 
First impressions matter
At home and at work, it can be hard to overcome first impressions unless something significant happens to change your opinion. That experience can be magnified in a boss-subordinate relationship. Research published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization found that, even with a known leader, the first opinion she shares on a topic is the one her team will remember. They will even tend to believe over time that her first opinion is still her position, even if the leader changes her mind and behavior in the future.
Your first reaction in a situation and the first statements you make about a new workplace initiative, a suggestion from the team or the right approach to tackle a tough issue may hold greater importance and have a longer lifespan than you had considered.
Walk the talk
There must be something about the topic of role modeling that draws on a lot of colloquial wisdom — the clich├ęs abound. Because one of the most effective ways to be a role model is to simply do what you say you’re going to do and to behave in ways that are consistent with your espoused values. Walk the talk. If you show up on time for meetings, demonstrate that you’re open to constructive feedback and show respect for a diversity of opinions and work styles, your colleagues and those you supervise are far more likely to do the same.
When you scan the professional landscape for role models to inspire you in your professional development, focus on behaviors rather than rhetoric. Effective role models hold themselves accountable, bring a positive approach to difficult challenges, can admit their mistakes, are on a continual learning path themselves and show respect for people at all levels of the organization. Those who you find most compelling most likely also strongly reflect your personal values.
When you think of what causes you to admire someone else and want to emulate their workplace behaviors, remember to put your own actions through the same filter. Because someone else is looking at you exactly the same way — and modeling their behavior on yours.  
You can find a wealth of positive role models through your engagement with WFF and our 24/7 portal, WFF Connect. Every month, you also have an opportunity to learn from industry role models and engage in breakout sessions with peers through our virtual WFF Exchange Networks. REGISTER today to participate in the Thursday, October 21 session on Embracing Your Personality Type with Chief People Officer for The Wendy’s Company, Coley O’Brien. November 18, the topic will be Finding Your Motivation/Shine Where You Are.

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