It has become commonplace for athletes and celebrities to insist that they do not want to be role models. They say this even when announcing million dollar endorsement deals and signing posters for kids to hang on their bedroom walls. What they mean is, they do not want to be the bad guy when you are somehow disappointed with them.
In the context of the workplace, no one sets out to be a role model either. You sign on to do your job, you get paid to do your job, and suddenly, via unauthorized “mission creep” they want you be a role model. Often they never even tell you of these new expectations.
I worked at seven gear companies before becoming a consultant. My work took me into as many as a hundred customer plants. There were role models in each. Not necessarily modeling good behavior but role models none the less. No one called them by that auspicious title, of course, but if you spent even a day or two in the shop you knew who the place relied on.
In some situations, I even played the role model myself so I offer the following observations:
1. If people look to you for answers when trouble crops up, you are a role model.
2. If new employees are sent to you for orientation, you are a role model.
3. When you get offended by the poor work habits of co-workers, you are a role model.
Notice that in none of these situations are the wishes of the “role model” considered. I should also note that many were terrible at the job. Terrible as in adult temper tantrum, sabotaging software, hiding reference material, and undercutting supervisor bad. As the saying goes, at least you were a good bad example.
Who wants to be remembered as a brilliant but impossible to work with genius? Sadly, this is the legacy of many role models. People who could have been singing the praises of a visionary who did so much to make the organization a huge success are instead compelled to point out the collateral damage the various “eccentricities” caused.
Consider this your “Scrooge” ghost, cantankerous role models! There is still time to become the revered thought leader you want to be.
More on role models, mentors, and mentees next time.