Why Role Models Are Important In Times Of Change

Jan 20, 2022

A role model is someone who's behaviour is worthy of emulating. It is often associated with words like authenticity and integrity.

It is critical in the context of change because change can be challenging.

The changes being demanded of society to control the spread of the various strains of the corona virus, are significant and so the phrases used in the initial outbreak, such as "we're all in this together" were compelling.

To land such messages consistently though, role modelling is critical. People need to see and believe their leaders are as committed to the change as they are. In fact, it has been observed by many social psychologists that followers will only ever put as much effort in as their leaders...and no more. It's how we have developed throughout our lives.

"Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them."   - James Baldwin.

The Poor Role Model

Without wishing to be too political, the actions of Boris Johnson, and the statements of his closest advisors and cabinet colleagues recently, have been woefully inadequate in this context. Their leadership example has been to minimise, down-play and obfuscate the reality of their poor role modelling. The facts are - in May 2020, a gathering of nearly 40 staff in the gardens of Downing Street was organised and enjoyed at the same time as the Prime Minister was reinforcing the rules of lockdown in daily television broadcasts.

Whether the facts are disputed or not, these are clearly not the actions of a leader committed to the changes they are advocating for others.

The Great Role Model

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, having been incarcerated for 27 years there were many who were fearful of a full-blown uprising by the communities which had been subjugated under apartheid.

Instead, Mandela chose to role model from a different playbook. He chose acceptance, open dialogue, challenging exploration and purposeful engagement with all who could influence the development of a new society.

The result, the nation got behind him and a new South Africa was born.

Change is a Leadership Game

"You manage things; you lead people."  - Grace Murray Hopper.

For many leaders across the world, the pandemic has been dealt with as if it is a management issue. And I am not in any way diminishing the colossal effort it has taken to organise, mobilise and normalise the vaccines. But, in many ways, the challenge is one of leadership.

It's about winning over hearts and minds, of speaking logic and demonstrating compassion, of strategising and leading the way.

Failing to lead the way, to be an effective role model, undermines trust and result in a disconnection between the leader of change and the followers who will actually produce results.


Are you leading change? Is everyone involved aligned and engaged? If not, drop me a line and let's have a conversation.



Simon Phillips' unique L4 Framework

Make every day count. The L4 Framework helps you create a successful life on your terms - energised, balanced, happy and fulfilled.

50% Complete

Don't waste another moment...

Join the 1000's of people designing the life of their dreams with the L4 Framework.