How to Be a Role Model: 6 Qualities to Possess

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Do you want to set a good example for other people? How can you become an upstanding role model?

There are many areas in life where you can be a role model. Teachers, parents, managers, older siblings, and more have the potential to influence others to do great things. But, being a role model comes with a lot of responsibilities and requires adopting character traits that people will aspire to live up to.

Keep reading to learn how to be a role model for others by setting a positive example.

Traits of a Good Role Model

When you’re a role model for others, all eyes are on you. To that end, you need to uphold positive qualities that will influence others to do the same.

We’ve rounded up six characteristics that will help you understand how to be a role model for people who look up to you.

1. Model Your Values

The first principle of being an outstanding role model is to set an example by establishing strong values. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner’s book The Leadership Challenge explains how to be a role model for a company or team of people by demonstrating how your values increase success and your overall happiness. 

Establish Your Values

Effective teams are built on shared values, so as a leader, your first job is to establish a set of values that will guide you and your team. 

Clear values help guide your behaviors and choices so that you stay on the path toward your goal. Your values are the enduring beliefs underpinning your actions; the principles that will guide your decisions. Take time to think carefully about what you stand for and what priorities will drive your actions, because having a solid understanding of your own core principles will give you and your team confidence when making decisions. 

How to Model Your Values

Once you’ve established and clearly articulated your values, you must model them in your behavior. When you live out your values, others will know that you’re serious about expecting them to live them, too. Further, when you model your values, you educate your constituents; you guide, teach, and coach them on how to align their values with other people. People learn better by seeing an example in action than by merely hearing the words. 

You broadcast your values in many ways, some of which are:

  • Where you devote your time and attention: Schedule your calendar and structure your agenda to match your stated values. For example, if you say you value your clients, patients, students, and so on, make yourself available to them.
  • How you use words and phrases: Your language reflects how you think about roles and relationships. Avoid words and phrases that focus on hierarchy (such as boss, employee, top-down, and rank-and-file), and instead use words that focus on relationships (like associates, colleagues, and team members).
  • How you pose questions: Ask purposeful questions designed to inform, guide, and emphasize your values. For example, ask, “What do you need that we can provide so you can finish the project?” to emphasize collaboration, rather than, “Why haven’t you finished the project?” which emphasizes blame.
  • Your openness to feedback and how you handle criticism: You broadcast how you feel about others’ opinions with whether or not you’re open to feedback.

2. Have Humility

The best role models are ones that are grounded and practice humility. No one likes people with big egos. And one way to stay humble is to keep an open mind.

To become more receptive to other people’s perspectives, Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio says you need to be humble and open-minded, and you need to be aware of what you know and how you reason.

If you’re very open-minded but are weak when it comes to reasoning, you’ll have problems picking the right people and ideas. If you have good reasoning but aren’t humble, you miss out on better ideas. If you’re not humble and you’re weak when it comes to reasoning—meaning you know little, yet you’re convinced you know everything—then you remain stagnant.

Admit Your Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, and No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings says that owning up to yours encourages other people to take risks despite the possibility of failure. Hastings notes that role models often fear that being honest about their shortcomings will cause others to lose faith in them. 

The opposite is true as long as you’ve already built trust and proven your competence. People like others who make mistakes because it shows that they’re human and that people can grow from their flaws. If someone points out a mistake in your work, don’t shrug it off—consider that you might be wrong and be receptive to possible solutions.

In Thank You for Arguing, Jay Heinrichs outlines a five-step process for owning up to your mistakes while also improving your reputation:

  1. Determine your goal. Figure out what you want the outcome to be.
  2. Fess up first. Being the first one to talk about your mistake means you can better control the narrative.
  3. Use future tense. Immediately follow up your admission with possible solutions and a plan of action.
  4. Don’t belittle the victim. Treat the mistake with the appropriate amount of gravity to demonstrate that you care about the consequences of your mistake.
  5. Don’t rely on an apology. Apologies reinforce your guilt and may come off as insincere. Instead of saying sorry, acknowledge that you didn’t meet your own high standards.

3. Live Authentically and With Confidence

If you want to be a role model, just be yourself. You want to show people not to be ashamed of themselves, and the only way to do that is to lead by example.

You might think that authenticity is a trait that you either have or lack. However, Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection claims this isn’t true. Being authentic is a way of thinking and acting. It’s making the conscious choice to show your true self to the world. This means all of your true self, including the more vulnerable parts—for example, your fears, your imperfections, and your quirks. 

Being authentic takes a lot of courage. Letting the world see who you truly are can be a scary process. To take this courageous step, you’ll need to learn to accept your vulnerabilities. If you see your vulnerable parts as flaws to be ashamed of, you’re going to try to hide these parts of yourself. This is incompatible with authenticity.

Instead of being ashamed of your vulnerabilities, recognize them as important parts of your individuality. They’re not flaws to be hidden. Instead, they’re gifts that add to your uniqueness. Adopting this mindset will increase your self-worth. You’ll stop seeing your vulnerabilities as evidence you’re “not good enough,” and instead be able to fully accept yourself for who you are.

4. Have Respect for Others

A good role model makes other people feel important, says Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Praising people’s traits or their reputation will make them feel respected, and they will work to continue feeling important.

Some people might not be receptive to the feedback you give them, and may even take it as an insult to their character. However, there is a way to show respect for people, while also advising them on how to improve. In some ways, encouraging them to grow shows that you have immense respect for them because you see great potential. 

If you want to improve something about a person, act as though that trait were already one of her outstanding characteristics. Here are some tactics for doing so, and other people will follow your lead:

  • To an angry customer: “I have always admired you for your fairness and patience, and that you applied them today. Please forgive us for our mistakes.”
  • To someone who’s rejected you: “I have respected your open-mindedness and hope I am big enough to change your mind if presented with new facts.”
  • Try this for people who are historically underappreciated—find a trait of theirs you want to emphasize. 
  • If a person has a poor reputation for what you want to improve, reversing it may sound disingenuous. Instead, praise a related character trait the person prides, and then obliquely connect it to the reputation. For instance, a person may be hard-working but make many careless mistakes—praise the diligence, and how by focusing hard, they can overcome their carelessness.

Praise Every Slightest Improvement

Whether it be your child, a student, or an employee, make sure to praise every improvement so it inspires them to keep improving. Look back on your life and remember moments when just a few words of praise sharply turned your entire future. You can have this impact on others. Here are some examples of how to be a role model supporting others on their journey of self-improvement.

  • Give specific praise. Single out a specific accomplishment, instead of general flattering remarks. This makes your praise sound more sincere, and also forces you to find genuine points of appreciation.
  • Some relationships, especially parents and work, have evolved into a vicious cycle of yelling. The parent gives no praise, the child resists, the parent yells at the child, the child resists further, and the parent yells more loudly to get any result. You must break out of this vicious cycle to build a virtuous cycle. 

5. Never Give Up

Good role models accept only victory. Failure or quitting is not an option. Good leaders don’t even bother with a Plan B, because Plan A will for sure lead to victory. Victory-seeking role models are responsible, passionate, creative, and utterly committed to their vision. People are more likely to follow in your footsteps if you show dedication to your cause.

One of the best places to study this law is in sports—often leaders are behind the scenes, but coaches are out in the open. You can immediately see the outcome of their decisions when their teams score or win the game.

According to John C. Maxwell in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, understanding how to become a role model that’s victorious requires all three of the following:

  • Unified vision. It doesn’t matter how much talent there is within an organization if it’s all going in different directions. Everyone must consider winning to be the same thing.
    • For example, when John C. Maxwell played high school basketball, the juniors and seniors on the team didn’t get along and the coach ended up making two separate squads. The team did poorly—people played for their age group, not for the team. 
  • Variety in skills. Each person on the team contributes something different. You need different skills to win.
    • For example, a staff made up entirely of receptionists isn’t going to be as effective as a staff with people in different roles.
    • Pitfall alert! If you’re a natural leader, you’re more likely to forget this principle.
  • A strong leader. The above two points don’t happen naturally. A team needs a role model to guide people in unifying their vision, and someone to bring diverse people together.
    • For example, consider a sports team again. It’s impossible to win without talented athletes, but even if you have talented athletes, it’s possible to lose. A team needs a good coach.

6. Earn Success Through Sacrifice

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership also states that to learn how to be a role model, you must be content with sacrifice.

Non-leaders sometimes have the misconception that leadership is pleasant—you get freedom, power, and wealth. While some leaders do get these things, the constant among successful role models is that people recognize they’ve earned their success through sacrifice.

Here are some things to keep in mind to successfully apply this law:

  • It is impossible to succeed without sacrifice. 
    • For example, you may give up four years of your life and spend thousands of dollars to go to college to train for a career.
  • Leaders need to sacrifice more than the average person to be successful. When you’re a leader, your rights and responsibilities are inversely proportional.
  • Sacrifice is a process, not a one-off. Even after you’re successful, you never get to stop sacrificing. If you do stop sacrificing after you’ve reached a certain goal (“destination disease”), you won’t progress anymore.
  • The sacrifice is proportional to the level of leadership. The more people look up to you as a role model, the more you have to sacrifice.
    • For example, consider becoming president. President is one of the highest leadership positions, and to get there, potential presidents have to spend years in lower leadership positions, renounce personal privacy, and be constantly questioned and scrutinized. Even once the presidency is over, retired presidents spend the rest of their lives guarded by Secret Service agents.

Even if you don’t personally witness the payoff of your sacrifice, someone in the future does. For example, say you’re an uneducated laborer. You work hard to make enough money to send your kids to school. Because your kids had this opportunity, they’re in a better position to set up their own kids for success. And so on down the generations.

Final Words

One of the most gratifying feelings in life is knowing that people aspire to be like you. While it’s a big responsibility to make the right decisions and set standards for others, good intentions will get you far as a role model.

Are there any other ways to learn how to be a role model? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Be a Role Model: 6 Qualities to Possess

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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