Seeing Your Future Self in Others: the Importance of Powerful Role Models

It is crucial for aspiring leaders to connect with role models with whom they can identify. These themes were front and center in my mind as I entered middle management six years ago. I was specific in my search for a female role model, and after a year, I found such a leader—a seasoned health care professional who had evolved from the front lines to a senior leadership role. I was able to access knowledge cultivated over years of experience, and her counsel on being true to oneself in appearance, speech, and demeanor was powerful. This advice from a mentor who closely reflected me and my past experiences was an important factor in helping me feel comfortable with standing out.

My second tactic was to align with a female leader within my organization. This permitted me the luxury of a local mentor who could help me navigate our internal socio-political landscape. I regularly saw her in action in our work setting and leveraged frequent informal conversations with her. The presence of this mentor was invaluable, since she allowed me the flexibility to learn by observing and in doing so, refine my ability to influence internal decision-making.

My final strategy was to remain balanced in my approach in seeking mentors. I wanted to connect beyond the traditional lines of gender, race, and sexual orientation, and looked for a role model with whom I shared core values (courage, compassion, and kindness). This journey was the most difficult, as it required time and effort to unearth similar value systems in an established male leader. However, his viewpoint has been invaluable, enabling me to ensure that my messaging is well received by all audiences.

In summary, access to role models has been crucial to my personal and professional growth as a leader. I deliberately surround myself with positive female mentors, but also learn from the trajectory of others who are aligned with a common value system. In doing so, I’ve found ways to see myself in others when female role models have been difficult to come by. My advice to aspiring leaders would be to find your future self in those positive role models available to you, and to be patient in letting their input nourish your leadership journey.