Great leaders are great role models

May 17, 2013 

"My mother once told me, when you have to make a decision, imagine the person you want to become someday. Ask yourself, what would that person do?"

-- Barry Deutsch, Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite

In order to be a great leader, you have to be a great role model. Managers often forget that their staff watches their behavior and uses it to guide their own reactions.

Too often I see CEOs running their organizations with fear and intimidation. In these cases, this methodology spreads through the ranks of the organization as lower-level management will imitate the CEO's values -- whether they are good or not. Staff just wants to emulate their leaders, so it is absolutely critical that every organization has a role model people can look up to and trust.

So what characteristics should the role model of a business -- or a non-profit, for that matter -- have? I think consistency is first and foremost.

Without consistency, staff does not know what you believe in or what your true motives are. I have personally witnessed how a CEO's inconsistency impacts the staff. If the CEO is inconsistent in how they deal with vendors, for instance, the staff will be confused about how they should act in those situations.

Character is another quality that is so important in a role model. When I say "character," I mean doing the right thing even when no one is looking. You can also think of it as honesty or integrity. However you define it, the point is that a role model should exude the highest degree of character at all times. As Warren Buffet said, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently."

Next, a role model should have enthusiasm.

You probably know from personal experience that when you come to work without enthusiasm, the momentum of the day is wasted. For a leader, however, this affects more than just one person's productivity. If your enthusiasm is lacking, staff will pick up on it and their motivation will nosedive.

Now, I know everyone has off days. You may not always feel enthusiastic, but the fact is, you just have to fake it. You must consistently be enthusiastic in order to keep your staff motivated.

Finally, it is critical that a role model be supportive of their staff. I am frequently telling managers that in many ways, their staff does not work for them. They work for their staff. Workers need to know their leaders care about their needs. It is your job as a role model to ensure staff knows you are on their side.

All these things seem so simple and so obvious, but they slip through the cracks more often than you might think. Managers and leaders get caught up in all their daily tasks and just forget that their primary function is being a great role model.

One of the best ways to determine your effectiveness as a role model is to ask your staff to evaluate you. There are many tools to help with this process. Most are very inexpensive and they always produce enlightening results.

Jerry Osteryoung, the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University, can be reached at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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