Embody the changes you wish to see

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Role modelling is a fundamental aspect of effective leadership. It encompasses the concept that leaders have to embody themselves the behaviours, values, and attitudes they wish to see in their organisation.

In essence, role modelling involves leaders acting as living examples of the (new) organisational culture, ethics, and standards they support. It requires them to really demonstrate through their actions what they expect from others. And there is no short-cut here. And here is where it often goes haywire… but we’ll get to this a bit later. For now, let’s take a closer look at what Role Modelling really is about.

Role modelling can influence organisations at every level. When leaders consistently exhibit the aspired behaviour they are looking for within the organisation, they provide employees with a clear and tangible example for them to copy. Especially during an organisational (cultural) transformation, role modelling plays a pivotal role, as leaders often have to adapt to the new aspired values and principles as well. And that is not something that automatically falls into place. This is something the leadership team has to practice and adhere to themselves as well. From experience we know this can be somewhat of a bumpy road, especially for those leaders who have to come from far, so to speak.

By visibly living the values they preach, leaders not only gain credibility and trust, but also inspire and motivate their teams to pursue excellence themselves. However, it is important to understand that the significance of role modelling extends beyond any theoretical framework. It asks for a deep dive into why it is crucial for the success of an organisation transformation, the common pitfalls leaders may encounter, and practical strategies to overcome such challenges.

So, why don’t we take a closer look at those three aspects. First up are three reasons why role modelling is important:

  1. Sponsor credibility
    Practice what you preach. This helps you build credibility and trust you are looking for within your organisation. Employees are really more likely to follow you as you demonstrate consistency between your words and actions. If you pass on this one, while sponsoring the aspired change as an executive, your organisational change or transformation is dead-upon-arrival.
  2. Cultural alignment
    Leaders who exemplify the desired culture by embodying the aspired behaviour, help to facilitate and embed such behaviour across their organisation. This alignment ensures that your entire workforce is working towards your shared purpose, values and principles.
  3. Employee engagement
    Leading by example significantly impacts employee engagement in a positive way. When you, as a leader, exhibit the right level of dedication, enthusiasm, and a strong work ethic, it sets a standard for employees, encouraging them to also engage deeply with their work and the new organisational model you aspire. Your displayed behaviour will rub off to your employees as well.

Especially in times of organisational change, role modelling becomes increasingly important. If you are able to demonstrate a more adaptive and collaborative style of behaviour, you can mitigate potential resistance and guide your teams more successfully through the upcoming transition towards a culture of Agility.

When going through such a transformational process it is good to know some of the common pitfalls that you might encounter that can seriously undermine your efforts:

  1. Inconsistency
    One of the most common pitfalls is inconsistency between your words and your actions. When you fail to align your own behaviour with the aspired organisational values and principles, it leads to a loss of credibility and trust among employees. As mentioned before, there is no short-cut here, you have to lead by example.
  2. Lack of self-awareness
    We have noticed that sometimes leaders may not be fully aware of how their actions are perceived by others. This lack of self-awareness can result in behaviour that contradicts your intended message, thereby diminishing your effectiveness as role model.
  3. Failure to adapt
    Leaders who are rigid and unable to adapt their behaviour to new and changing circumstances can struggle somewhat to remain an effective role model. In our current dynamic business environment, the inability to evolve can be perceived by your employees as out-of-touch or inflexible. I think I’m quite sure that this is not a place where you want to be, but for some it can be hard to overcome.

Acknowledgement is the first step to a resolution. By simply knowing these pitfalls you are already halfway there. Now, let’s take a look at some of the strategies you can apply to overcome these pitfalls.

  1. Demonstrate consistency
    You, as a leader, have to strive for consistency in your behaviour. Easier said than done, right? It involves making a conscious effort to align your actions with the aligned company values, principles, and commitments. By demonstrating your integrity and reliability, you can better reinforce your credibility and build stronger trust within your teams. But you have to be relentless here, as we all know that trust can take ample of time to build but can be gone in moments.
  2. Cultivate self-awareness
    If you really want to start with role modelling than self-awareness is critical for its effectiveness. Leaders should learn to reflect regularly on their actions and seek feedback from peers and employees to gain insights into how they are perceived. This way you can identify any gaps between your own intentions and perceived actions, allowing you for some necessary adjustments where needed.
  3. Embrace flexibility
    You probably understand that as a leader you have to be adaptable. Embracing a growth mindset (read HBR article What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means from Carol Dweck) and remaining open to learning can help you to become an effective role model. This includes things like staying informed about industry trends, seeking professional development opportunities, and being willing to adjust your behaviour as needed. Read also this article on Lifelong learning
Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

So, there you have it. Effective role modelling is an incredible powerful tool and can help you drive cultural transformation, enhance employee engagement, and build a resilient, adaptive workforce. Especially when this is associated with a new inspiring culture is based on inspirational concepts like transparency and trust.

By embodying the values, principles, and behaviours you wish to see in your teams, you yourself have to showcase what you want to see. In short: Leading by example. Yes, there will be pitfalls and probably some fallbacks as well, but the upside out ways these challenges by multiple times.

Good luck on your journey!

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Alize Hofmeester

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