Essay On Why Role Models Are Important

People who are constantly striving to improve themselves will tell you one thing for sure, one thing they all have in common is having a good role models in their lives.

This is maybe one of the most crucial aspects on the path of self-improvement. As creatures of comfort oftentimes we refuse to abandon our comfort zone, lacking the motivation, not having or not feeling that strong urge within us.

But being also example driven, we come to realize that all of that can sometimes be found among others, or to be more precise, driven from others, your best role models.

Positive role models fill that position quite nicely, and having one or more in our lives more often than not acts as an indicator that we are about to score big in the game of self-improvement.

“People seldom improve when they have no other role model but themselves to copy.” – Oliver Goldsmith.

Our positive role models motivate us, teach us in a specific way to an extent where we uncover our true potentials, and overcome our barriers. They leave us with the opportunity to develop not only fairly innocuous with regards to our personality, but rather alongside with it in the most natural of ways.

We get to witness our traits, see beyond the faults right into their solution. In other words, we are rendered from what could have been our mediocre, and left to develop our greatness in every aspect of life.

And while all of this sounds overpromising, the truth of the matter is that we know the power behind it. We felt it in some instance in our lives, and are now able to recognize the motive, the inspiration and the drive within us once we have someone to direct us, or better yet show us the example by which we will change for better.

The experience is cathartic, and by that the results are great too. And that is the importance of having a good role models in our life.

5 reasons for having a good role models

1. Listening to your role model or witnessing his success may indeed give you a different perspective when trying to solve your problems or the things you are currently dealing with. Good role models may change your outlook on certain issues, and by that change you entirely.

2. If you chose a good role model who struggled with your problems, or had similar obstacles in his life, then chances are he will provide you with the answers to those problems. Or if nothing else give you a different approach to look at.

3. You will try to copy his qualities, and mimic them as much as you can. You may come to pick up things as dedication, discipline, positive outlook on things, courage, self-confidence, compassion, and many others.

4. You will adopt many of his habits too. Take me for example, I personally admire people like Robin Sharma or Steve Jobs. And when I started reading about them more and more, I found out that one of the things they found out to be useful when pursuing self-improvement was getting up early.

I try to make this my habit ever since. You see, you will recognize many habits as being good, and adopt them as your own. And if you have the habits of your positive role models, it’s more likely that you will have the same results in many areas they did.

5. They will act as your coach, and motivate you on daily basis. Great people know to do this. Like succeeding was not enough for them, they now try and influence others to ignite the same passion towards life.

And more often than not they succeed in doing so too. I remember reading one of the books Bear Grylls wrote, titled “The kid who climbed Everest”. Since then I see Bear as some sort of a coach who reminds me to push as harder as I can, and to never give up. That’s the kind of motivation and inspiration great people can give you.

So who can be your good role model?

This is the interesting question now. We are doubtful in many occasions, therefore quite picky. And that is actually good. Because you see, not being reluctant about who we let into our lives to have influence on us is very important. As in many cases the example or the lead can be wrong and misleading.

So how do we choose, being sure that we made the right decision?

People usually know when they see the person who can serve as an example. The feeling is one of profound inspiration, motivation, and finding oneself.

But there are many things you can do, or questions you can ask yourself, that will help you know for sure whether you choose the best role models for you.

  • You can look for the people who achieved similar results as the ones you are going after.
  • You can look for people who struggled with the same problems as you do in their past, and try to find how they did it.
  • You can find someone whose life story is so fascinating, that it simply uplifts you and motivates you tremendously.
  • Sometimes we have trouble staying motivated or inspired, so you can look for someone who by his own actions inspires you in a specific way.
  • If you are lacking discipline you can look for a good role models that have plenty of it, and teach others how to mimic their discipline and dedication.

It is really up to you. You should first know exactly what are you looking for. You know the one- “When the person is ready, the teacher appears himself”. Or was it “when the student is ready”? Anyway… My point is that you have to know first of all what are you after, and in what aspect do you need empowerment, guidance, direction, inspiration.

After that you can more easily find your good role models.

You can try these questions too:

  • What kind of person I want to be ?
  • What do I want to achieve and is there someone who achieved that ?
  • Is there anyone that empowers me with his/her words, vision, qualities?

After playing with these thoughts, you will have a better picture about who you like to learn from, who you will take inspiration and direction from.

Having more than one good role model

If you read all the way here, then you noticed me saying good role models, instead of good role model couple of times. It’s not a mistake, the “s” was deliberately added. So what does it mean to have more than one? And how is that going to work?

Well, you see, our lives nowadays are more diverse than ever. We are expected to perform our best in many aspects of life, whether we are talking about career, family, and relationships with others.

We are expected to be well read, look good, differentiate from the crowd. And with so much versatile life, and things expected from us, it’s quite logical to find more positive role models to lead us in this hectic lifestyle.

You can look up to someone that succeeded in his career, someone that adopted views and understandings on the world that fascinate you, someone who you want to look like, someone that represents an example when talking about personal life and taking care of the family.

There are plenty of good role models in every aspect of life. You just have to find them.

Having good role models in your life can change you forever. You can become your true self, and then maybe inspire others the way you’ve been inspired. Look for your best role models, your influencers.

Never stop looking, they can be great people who left much behind them, they can be the person behind the corner, or you can find them in your father or mother, or close friend. Good role models are crucial to your self-improvement path.

Image credit: freedigitalphotos

Who do you most admire? A former teacher, a world leader, a neighbor, your boss? As adults, we tend to give little thought to the idea of having a “role model,” as we regard this to be a quality that children seek from the adults in their lives.  However, if you stop and consider who most influences you now, and why, you’ll no doubt agree that the people you admire now are giving you your most important life lessons.

Role models who uphold high ethical or moral values are typically not the people whose stories make it to the press or social media. We’ve all been exposed to public figures who might qualify as “anti” role models.  Their antics may include being aggressive toward paparazzi or admitting to abusing illegal drugs.  Being bad is just plain sexier than being good. Unfortunately, because these are the public figures who get the most attention, it’s easy to lose your own moral compass and come to believe that you too will get more of what you want in life if you act out every once in a while. 

Studies of aggressive learning in children show that through a process known as vicarious reinforcement, we start to model the behavior of individuals whose actions seem to be getting rewarded. In vicarious reinforcement, your tendency to commit a behavior that someone else gets praise or attention for increases almost as much as if you were actually getting the rewards yourself. Unless the public figure who’s acted out is thoroughly and utterly disgraced and then completely disappears from public view, vicarious learning will occur in those exposed to that public figure’s actions. Most of the time, though, these people do anything but disappear. After the usual mea culpa’s, the media forgive them and we, the public, come away with the lesson that anyone can achieve redemption and make a profit at the same time. 

In your personal life, you may also see plenty of anti-role models.  Consider work settings. Perhaps one of your bosses has a reputation for sliding around the edges of rules or best practices.  You’ve been at meetings where the boss brags about how he sold faulty merchandise to a client or how she misled a customer into agreeing to a shady deal.  You may come away from these meetings thinking that the way to get ahead is to engage in similar acts of questionable ethics.  Taking a page from your supervisor’s playbook may provide you with a clear path to the top. It feels wrong at first, but if it’s ok for your boss, then it must be right.

What about the opposite situation?  You’re at a staff meeting where one of your fellow employees admits to one of those questionable dealings.  Instead of offering congratulations, your supervisor expresses concern and disappointment.  Through the process of vicarious reinforcement, you acquire the expectation that if you were to engage in this behavior yourself, bad things would happen to you just as they did to your coworker. Your supervisor, then, has acted as a role model showing that certain behaviors are acceptable and others are not. If you want to get to the top, you’ll have to learn to climb the ethical ladder.

Managers learn to be ethical or not from someplace, but the question is where and how?  In a study published in June 2013, Pennsylvania State University-Erie researchers Michael Brown and Linda Treviño investigated the steps that lead managers to be perceived by their supervisees as decent human beings who have something to teach them—in other words, being an ethical leader. Earlier work led them to believe that to be perceived as an ethical leader, the individual must be seen as a moral person who is honest, trustworthy, caring about people, open to input, respectful, and able to make principled decisions. To be moral managers, they must use leadership tools that include providing rewards, disciplining others when necessary, communicating clearly, and letting their employees know that they themselves must maintain ethical standards.

When employees have ethical leaders, they like them better. Just as importantly, they will behave in more positive ways within the organization. Clearly, it’s to everyone’s advantage to have supervisors who are positive role models.

Brown and Treviño reasoned that ethical leaders probably weren’t born that way nor did they dream it up themselves. Most of us don’t come equipped with a clear set of ethical standards on our own.  We receive lessons from others, to a certain extent, but it’s more likely that we acquire our moral sense through vicarious processes. These researchers believed that one way people become ethical leaders is by having ethical role models when they are young.  The learning they receive as children becomes the foundation for being an ethical leader as an adult.

Mentors are a second source of learning to be ethical leaders. When they take us under their wing, those who guide us in the workplace, or even those who work side-by-side as co-workers with us show us, again through vicarious learning, that we ourselves need to be honest and fair in our dealings with others.

The third way to learn how to be an ethical leader, Brown and Treviño argued, is by observing “top” managers.  Those who have made it to the ranks of executive have legitimacy afforded to them by virtue of their status.  Furthermore, when those at the apex of the hierarchy are ethical, they communicate these expectations to their underlings who, in turn, pass down the lesson that you’ll be rewarded for being honest, direct, and fair.

To find out which combination of childhood role models, mentors, and top managers produces the greatest impact, Brown and Treviño surveyed 217 managers and 659 who reported directly to them in a large nationwide insurance company.  They asked the managers to rate the quality of their ethical role modeling in childhood, the degree to which they felt they had been ethically mentored, and how ethical they perceived their own top bosses to be. Their supervisees, in turn, rated the ethical leadership shown by their managers in their own day-to-day dealings. 

Nearly all of the managers surveyed reported that they had ethical role models as children. However, having a positive childhood role model had no impact at all on how ethically their supervisees perceived the managers. Instead, the employee ratings of the ethical leadership style of their managers rested most heavily on whether the managers reported that, as adults, they had been ethically mentored. In fact, the older the managers were, the stronger the effect of having ethical mentoring on their leadership style. 

It makes sense that the older you are and the longer you’re in the job, the less effect your childhood role models will have on you and the more powerful will be the role models you have in your work.  Ethical adults may shape your character as a young person, but the more you’re out in the world, the more likely it is that your current role models will be the ones to shape your attitudes.

The Brown and Treviño study shows that having adult role models, then, directly impacts not only how you perceive yourself but, just as importantly, how others perceive you.  If those around you have questionable ethics, and seem to be getting away with it, you’ll eventually unlearn even the most morally upright values you acquired as a child. 

This was a study based on the workplace, but it may not be too much of a stretch to apply the findings to other areas of life.  Our childhood ideals are constantly being tested when “successful” (in whatever way you define it) relatives and neighbors brag about how they’ve put the screws to business associates, abused a romantic partner, or took advantage of one of their friends or close relatives. Maybe they lied about an insurance claim after an accident and now are able to take an expensive vacation on the proceeds and gleefully relay this story over the holiday dinner table.  You can’t help but think, even if just so slightly, that maybe they’re onto something.  

You also learn from the famous CEO’s whose unethical business dealings get them in the headlines—the inside traders, the bank fraud perpetrators, and those who in general serve violate the public trust.  On the other hand, you also learn from ethical public figures who speak out against fraud, theft, and abuse of power.  When you see a business mogul donate millions to charity (and not just as a tax write-off) you start to think that maybe this is behavior that you should consider emulating.

Just because we’ve become adults doesn’t mean that we’re impervious to ethical influences, both good and bad.  We may not even be able to identify precisely the ways in which we’ve been affected. The process of vicarious learning is such that it occurs outside of direct conscious awareness. No one may be telling you to act ethically, but when you see ethical behavior rewarded, your mind draws its own conclusions and ultimately may direct you to follow suit.

One of the inspiring messages from the Brown and Treviño study is that people actually prefer to have ethical leaders.  When you play fair, communicate directly, and in general demonstrate that you hold high standards, other people actually do look up to you.  If for no other reason than to be liked and respected, taking the moral high ground may be the one that ultimately benefits you as well as those who look up to you as their inspiration. 

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2013 


Brown, M. E., & Treviño, L. K. (2013). Do role models matter? An investigation of role modeling as an antecedent of perceived ethical leadership. Journal Of Business Ethics, doi:10.1007/s10551-013-1769-0

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