‘There’s no one I look up to anymore, no one I really admire.’ My client bemoaned. ‘All of the good leaders have gone.’ Helen* has a lot of potential; she has risen rapidly through the ranks and is one step away from taking on a company-wide leadership position.
However, without understanding her perspective on role models, Helen could fall into a nasty career-limiting trap. Disillusionment with those above you can create negative energy and trigger career limiting behaviours. At its worst, the high potential leader can discount what those around him or her say, reduce their interactions with those at the top, or openly undermine them. All of which can ultimately undermine his or her career chances.
So what should Helen and those like her do?
- The first step is to understand the drivers behind this perspective. In the same way that many children realize that their once idolized parents and teachers are mere mortals, so there comes a time in the development of some leaders when he or she reaslies that those around them are just people too; people of varying talents, values and capabilities. It may be time to realize… It’s not the role models that have changed, it’s you.
- The next step is to look for something else. Think sources of inspiration instead of role models. Instead of looking for someone who provides 90% of what good looks like, search instead for those that have 50%. Perhaps a colleague is particularly good at assessing risk, or a new joiner is a particularly positive source of energy.
- Finally, no matter who you are interacting with, always ask ‘what can I learn from this person’. Consider that today’s role model might be a jigsaw built from component parts.
*Name changed to protect client confidentiality