Role models are never out of fashion

Photo by  Kevin Grieve  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

I turned 41 four days ago. And realized: no matter whether you are 41 or 14, role models never go out of fashion. If anything, I appreciate them even more these days.

For me, a role model is a person you look up to. It is an individual whose behavior and values you (want to) emulate. When I was 14, this was a woman who dedicated most of her free time to working at a “third world shop” and she was an active member of the Green party (in Germany). She was humble, she had a measured tone, and she had a vision. She always stressed that it was important to listen to others, even if their point of view differed a lot from yours. Sadly, she died in her late 40ies. But I remember her to this day.


Who is a role model?

It can be someone that is very much alive (Lady Gaga, anyone?) or someone that has lived in a previous century (Nofretete, the Egyptian queen? Hypatia, Hellenian astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher?). It does not matter. You can have several role models or only admire one. Role models can change over the course of your life and career. Remember the debate around Cheryl Sandberg’s “Lean it” book – some may have viewed her as her role model. Some may look at Angela Merkel and say proudly. She is my role model. Or Coco Chanel. You see… the list is endless.


In the professional context, it is beneficial to have a role model for various reasons. These are my top five:

  1. Inspiration – when you run out of ideas, this person will help your creative juices to flourish again
  2. Obstacles – think of this person or even talk to them when you feel there are roadblocks you need to overcome
  3. Mistakes – by examining or even just imagining your role model’s approach to mistakes, you gain
  4. Character – a role model can serve as an individual whose behavior you’d like to emulate, making you change
  5. Success – consider how this person became successful and which behaviors, values and actions led them there.

My personal experience is that reflecting on your role model’s behavior in a challenging professional situation helps you gain clarity. My friend Jolie and I sometimes jokingly say “What would Hillary do?”, referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton. But it actually helps me to ask myself this question. By changing perspective, by assuming my role model’s point of view, I am able to detach from any difficult situation. The end result: I find solutions.

When you have a served a number of large and complex organizations, human behavior (and office politics) do not shock you much anymore. In these settings, it helps to think of your role model’s character. Would X have agreed with scenario Y? Or would she or he have objected to this? Character is quite important.

Success and inspiration are also great “gifts” role models (at times, unknowingly) have to offer. When you are in it for the long-haul (let’s assume, you pursue a five-year career trajectory) and at times wonder whether your efforts are being honored, reflect on your role model’s successes. Ask yourself: which behaviors and values led them to be successful, to accomplish their objectives? Get inspired!

Written by Caroline-Lucie Ulbrich
Finelles Founder. Coach and organizational consultant (ECB, Deutsche Bank and UBS). 



(3 min read)