So you want to be a great role model?

In the age of social media, role models are the new royalty. Whether it's labels such as #fitspiration, #bodyspiration or - the hashtag I most frequently see on my newsfeed - #careerspiration, it seems like everyone is looking for someone to look up to. With power, though, comes great responsibility.

As a CEO in a high-profile publishing role, I am in the lucky position to frequently meet people who say my work, books or conference addresses have inspired, motivated and guided them. I love hearing this, but it always leaves me with a slight sense of 'imposter syndrome'. Because, lets face it, I'm only human, and no single person has all the answers. What if I lead someone down the wrong path, and offer advice that doesn't serve them?

But I also know the importance of having a role model, because my own career has been carved by successful people before me whom I've looked up to. So, whether you're the boss of a small team, a mum trying to inspire teenagers, or a high-profile head of industry, this is what I've learnt about setting a good example.

Don't be too prescriptive

In my business books, I offer general advice on topics such as "how to overcome fear" and "how to build a kick-arse company culture" but I would never say that my way is the right way. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. Whether I'm speaking to my team or to a conference hall, I preface everything I say with the disclaimer: "This is only what works for me, so feel free to follow what resonates with you and disregard the rest". If I was a nutritionist, I wouldn't expect my diet to work for everyone's body, so why should it be different for business?

Never fake an answer

I have attended countless conferences in the name of self-development and I always find it interesting to see how speakers respond when they're asked a question to which they clearly don't know the answer (and yes, you can always tell). In this situation an expert has two choices – 'fess up, or fake it. You could pretend to know the answer, pulling together a response based on assumption with no real background knowledge. Or you can admit you don't currently know but that you will strive to find out, because it's such a good question. Offer to do some research and post a response on your Facebook page at a later date. As a role model, always go with the latter. No expert can know everything – and no-one can expect you to.

My own career has been carved by successful people before me whom I've looked up to.

Don't try too hard

The best role models I know don't even realise they're role models. They're the amazing people doing amazing things, not realising they're inspiring everyone who crosses their path. It can be hard not to let your ego take over, especially in the era of the internet where praise is so public. I was once at a press event sponsored by a luxury car brand showing off its new convertible at the venue. I have minimal interest in fast cars but found myself posing on the car bonnet for a photo for Instagram – just because everyone else was doing it. I deleted the photo about 30 seconds after posting it because it didn't represent what really matters to me. It's important not to try too hard to impress people, and to ensure your ethos is consistent.

Have your own muse

No matter how far you get in your career, there should always be someone you look up to. Great business leaders, from Sir Richard Branson to the late Steve Jobs, have cited role models that guide and inspire them. I am a big believer in "close-quarter role models". By this, I mean admiring people who you really know, and have really met, rather than just celebrity CEOs whose faces appear on the front of business magazines. The best thing about really knowing your role models is you realise they're only human, perfectly imperfect and not invincible. Then you realise that everything they've achieved, you can achieve too.

Do you have a role model? How do they inspire you? Let us know in the comments below.

The founder and editor-in-chief of The Collective, a monthly business and lifestyle magazine, Lisa Messenger has become a leading authority on the business world, specialising in entrepreneurship and disruption. She has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books and three times been a finalist in the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year awards. 

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