Wednesday, 10 August 2011

How important are role models in the workplace?

There has been much discussion over the recent looting and criminality taking place in many UK cities. I refuse to say ‘rioting’, because I suspect that these low-lifes are actually not politically motivated or even rioting against anything in particular. This is (to quote one of my facebook friends) ‘opportunistic theft and vandalism. A breakdown in family, morals, discipline and respect has held a generation back’

Well said. Politicians have been banging on for several years about ‘family values and ‘role models’ and it would appear that those swept along on a tide of violence and inhumane behaviour must be lacking suitable role models in their troubled lives. Sadly, I suspect that some of these ‘feral rats’ (to quote a shopkeeper who lost her entire stock) may actually have been previously reasonably well behaved, captivated in the moment, and lacking suitable structure or discipline at home.

Many of the England football team have spoken out individually against the violence, some with eloquence, some not. (Wayne Rooney’s tweets had some spelling errors, but hey, the sentiment is genuine I’m sure). Some commentators have mocked this initiative, especially as these sporting role models have been well known for bad behaviour on and off the pitch. But I applaud them for trying and even if their words persuade just one young person to stay at home and avoid trouble, then their efforts have not been wasted.

Various current social problems are blamed on a lack of suitable role models in pockets of society. Even the great philosopher, Aristotle's idea of ethical behaviour ‘relies substantially on the effects role models have on people. Aristotle believes that we learn to be moral (virtuous) by modelling the behaviour of moral people’ (William F Lawhead)

So does this principle apply to the workplace too? Of course it does.

I have written previously how leadership style flavours the culture of an entire organisation. Likewise, suitable role models at every level of the workplace hierarchy can have a highly positive effect on individual achievement and growth. In the same way that a good teacher can frame a pupil’s attitudes for the future, a good boss or benevolent mentor can be life changing.

I found this great definition of a role model: ‘An individual who is looked up to and revered by someone else. A role model is someone who other individuals aspire to be like, either in the present or in the future. A role model may be someone who you know and interact with on a regular basis, or may be someone who you’ve never met, such as a celebrity’

Many years ago, I worked with a charismatic doctor who was the chief executive of a healthcare company. In my opinion, she had everything – she was (and still is) charming, compassionate, highly intelligent, gracious, ambitious, professional, commercially minded and a great leader. I have always aspired to be like her and on some occasions have even felt I could emulate her. I adapted my style to mimic her – non confrontational but with steely resolve. I don’t always pull it off but this approach works more often than not. I was also fortunate to have great parents, an amazing grandmother and many workplace soul mates along the way who continue to guide my path.

One of the major issues affecting wellbeing at work is lack of guidance, behavioural benchmarks and aspirational goals. In the NHS, I feel this is particularly crucial. If a ward sister has a bad attitude, often the rest of the staff may follow suit. Likewise in any other organisation,  if a Chief Executive appears to be concentrating solely on budgets, and their own PR, why should the senior management team behave any differently?

The American Theologian, Tyron Edwards once said ‘People never improve unless they look to some standard or example higher and better than themselves.’

You don’t have to be in a senior management position to be a good role model. You don’t even have to be employed. Whether you are a parent, sibling, boss, friend or colleague – be aware. Your attitude, actions and words may have a much more significant and far-reaching effect than you realise.


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