John Eales ex­plains why role mod­els don’t have to be per­fect

The Australian - The Deal - - News - John Eales

IN a fa­mous Nike cam­paign in 1993, Charles Barkley, the brash NBA bas­ket­baller, chal­lenged the celebrity cult of role mod­els and be­came the anti-hero to what he saw as the many sac­cha­rine al­ter­na­tives:

“I’m not a role model, I’m not paid to be a role model, I’m paid to wreak havoc on the bas­ket­ball court. Par­ents should be role mod­els, just be­cause I dunk a bas­ket­ball, doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

Out­side of my par­ents, among my first role mod­els were our milk­man, who made his daily de­liv­er­ies with a dash of free ad­vice, a neigh­bour five years my se­nior who taught me the things I wasn’t sup­posed to know, and a host of Aus­tralian sports­man. Kids are eas­ily in­flu­enced. Role mod­els are a part of life whether we like it or not and they come in many forms – sports stars and sci­en­tists; leg­ends, such as the great Aussie bat­tler or our own dig­ger; and even our par­ents or an aunt or an un­cle. There are no lim­its to our uni­verse of role mod­els, with each rep­re­sent­ing im­ages of our most as­pi­ra­tional self.

As par­ents we use role mod­els in day-to-day in­struc­tion, not al­ways re­mem­ber­ing that in all like­li­hood we ful­fil that very same role our­selves – to the good and to the bad. Un­for­tu­nately though, role mod­els are of­ten pro­jected as mis­take-free, paragons of virtue and we rarely see the warts-and-all re­al­ity of life. This is both dan­ger­ous and lim­it­ing be­cause it sets un­re­al­is­tic expectations on those who ad­mire them. The vic­tims of this syn­drome can just as eas­ily be teenage kids, mid­dle-aged moth­ers or in­vest­ment bankers, each un­der the spell of an unattain­able dream. Role mod­els are most use­ful when rep­re­sented as nor­mal, flawed in­di­vid­u­als who have de­sir­able at­tributes which are truly at­tain­able. Here are four key points when con­sid­er­ing role mod­els.

It all starts with you:

First, understand who you truly are and be your­self. In some of my early lead­er­ship roles the best ad­vice I got was to just be my­self. But I didn’t take it. I tried to be a lit­tle bit of Nick Farr-Jones, my first cap­tain in the Wal­la­bies, Al­lan Border, and throw in a bit of Nel­son Man­dela or oth­ers who I ad­mired. In the process I for­got who I was so I prob­a­bly wasn’t any­body in the end. To know how to get the best out of oth­ers’ jour­neys but re­main au­then­tic to your own you need to first know your­self and build from there.

Choose wisely:

Be­ing paid to kick a ball, race a car, sing, act or sit in the C-Suite doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally qual­ify a per­son as a good role model. Choose some­one with sim­i­lar val­ues, and some­one whose story has use­ful and at­tain­able par­al­lels with your own.

Learn from their suc­cesses and their fail­ures:

Whether on the sport­ing field or in the board­room, mis­takes will be made. We can learn as much from watch­ing how role mod­els deal with mis­takes as we can from how they achieved their suc­cesses.

Value their skills as much as their story:

Tiger Woods was a prodi­gious golf tal­ent who de­spite some se­ri­ous er­rors in judge­ment can teach us a lot about the value of a work ethic and com­po­sure un­der pres­sure. James Dewey Watson, one of the team who dis­cov­ered the DNA dou­ble helix, was a No­bel Prize win­ner and thought leader, but the lat­ter part of his ca­reer was marred by some of his racist com­ments. Both made mis­takes but there are still lessons to learn from them.

It is use­ful to strike a bal­ance be­tween role mod­els and men­tors. A role model, who has a hands-on men­tor­ing role, coach­ing you and de­vel­op­ing your skills, will have a pro­found and long-last­ing ef­fect. Charles Barkley was true to his char­ac­ter. And that’s the key. when used as an in­struc­tive com­ple­ment to your best self rather than ab­sorbed blindly, role mod­els can be use­ful aids. Even a short cut to suc­cess. Don’t limit your­self to one or even a few and ac­cept them warts and all for there is also much truth to the say­ing that no-one is a to­tal waste of space, you can al­ways be used as a bad ex­am­ple.

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