In my toast at my youngest daughter Rachel’s wedding last year, I revealed to her that she is one of my role models. I was proud to tell her that for the last 20 years, while watching her grow into an amazing lady, I have always admired her happy-go-lucky style.
As I watched her mature, I was often envious of how she moved through life with so much joy. She always did things her way without worrying about what others thought. She had something that I desperately wanted for myself. I studied her and I committed to adopting the ways and habits that I saw contributing to how she never let anything bother her. For her entire life, she has inspired me. It was an unexpected admission that resulted in a very tender moment.
When I was a kid, I called Waylon Jennings my role model. Trying to be like him, I would smoke cigarettes at parties and dream of being on stage singing someday. He was one of the Outlaws with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. Wanting to be an Outlaw, I hung out with the crazy kids in school. Luckily, I had great parents who taught us right from wrong. So, although we partied hard, we never did anything to hurt anyone and certainly did not take things that were not ours.
Like many young people, I mistakenly identified an idol as a role model. In reality, if the great singer Jennings had truly been my role model, I would have been emulating his lyrics and starting a band. I would have been investing hours writing songs and practicing with my band.
As a business leader, I consider role models an essential building block to my success, and I do not limit myself to just one. I think it is necessary to have several. The goal is to identify a variety of people, each of whom has specific characteristics that you presently lack.
The role models I have followed for years are:
- My daughter Rachel for the reasons I previously mentioned.
- My dad, for his wisdom and tremendous ability to find good in everyone he meets.
- My mom, for her humility. She always treated others the way they wanted to be treated. Not the way she wanted to be treated, but the way they wanted to be treated.
- My Uncle Gerald, for his ability to act as a chameleon adapting to its surroundings. You could not help but love Uncle G. He would remark, “My name is Gerald with a G. The G is for good.”
- Businessman Bob Heiss, for his natural instincts. With little education, he always made great business and personal decisions better than anyone I knew. I believe he has animal like instincts knowing what direction to turn next while avoiding dangerous outcomes.
To be a better you, you must first recognize your weaknesses, and that demands self-reflection. Plan to invest a significant amount of time exploring potential conflicts and emotions. Dad would tell us that we need to be straight with one another, telling each other what we do not want to hear. Then, he would remind us to always communicate by talking it out instead of holding our emotions and letting disagreements fester into something big. Set your ego aside and listen to one another, he would explain.
Once you have identified the characteristics you are lacking, you are ready to start choosing your role models. Choose wisely. If you pick the right ones, it will contribute to your growth. You want to seek out and find people who have the values, core beliefs, habits, and traits you desire. These people will provide a vision for who you aspire to be. Find lessons and inspiration in their successes and/or failures. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from them? How do they talk? What do they think about? What kind of body language do they use? How do others perceive them? How do they manage failures and hard times? How do they live their life, and what makes them successful?”
Make it your mission to connect with your role models. Follow them on social media. Arrange time to speak with them personally. Learn more about their values, behaviors, achievements and processes. Identifying what made them successful is the first step in replicating it in your own life.
The most successful people are those who find lessons and inspiration in the success and/or failure of others. I have observed successful people who take advantage of others when they get the chance, or think they are above others due to their success. This is not the kind of person I want to be, and therefore, regardless of the level of success I can gain from those traits, I will not adopt role models with those negative traits.
Finally, there can be no leadership without followers. Make yourself available to serve as a role model for others. Share your story, your skills, your shortcomings and your passions. Make connections, listen more, and support people who are looking to improve who they are.