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Think role model in the workplace and your manager, your colleague or even your barista may spring to mind. Or you might look further afield to popular culture and fictitious role models like Professor Dumbledore from Harry Potter, owing to his wisdom and wit, or Miss Honey from Matilda with her kind and warm nature.
In any profession, being a good role model can set you apart from the pack and help ensure a harmonious working environment, according to Dr Brendan Hyde, a senior lecturer from Deakin’s Faculty of Arts and Education. ‘It’s always important to have good role models at work as people need others to aspire to,’ he says.
Keen to become a good role model in your workplace? Finetuning these skills will help you become someone your colleagues can look up to.
Soft skills – those interpersonal skills that help us play nicely with others – are one of the most important aspects of being a good role model in the workplace. Dr Hyde says three specific soft skills are particularly important: listening, negotiating and communicating.
‘You have to be a good listener – you have to listen to other people and be able to understand where they’re coming from,’ he says.
‘You have to be a good negotiator – you can’t expect to have your own way all the time. It’s important to be collaborative. Being able to talk, confer and co-operate with others is essential to getting the job done. These days, people often need to be shown these skills and given a chance to practice them. A good role model will display these skills for others to emulate.
‘Lastly, you also have to be a good communicator. A good role model will go out of their way to make sure they greet other people and interact with them. They show respect for others, regardless of whether they get along with them or not.’
'You have to be a good negotiator – you can’t expect to have your own way all the time. It’s important to be collaborative.'
Dr Brendan Hyde,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
Good role models show leadership – ‘they’re people who are prepared to walk the talk,’ Dr Hyde says – but they may not necessarily hold leadership positions.
‘Often people who are the best role models are those who are not leaders,’ Dr Hyde says. ‘Leaders may be very good at their job but they’re not necessarily great role models because they can be more concerned with driving the organisation forward, which you have to do, of course, than focusing on the relationships between the people with whom they’re working.
‘Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a good role model, unless you work at it.’
In fact, Dr Hyde says Harry Potter himself, despite not being in a position of leadership, is an effective role model because he tries to listen, communicate and act with compassion as he guides others.
‘Harry doesn’t get it right all the time, but a good role model doesn’t know it all to begin with – they flounder with the rest of us,’ he says. ‘However, they’re able to take stock of where they’re at and work on improving things like leadership soft skills.’
Becoming a good role model means supporting other people’s careers as much as your own.
‘Being aware of the potential of other people to act in particular ways and knowing what their strengths are is key to being a good role model,’ Dr Hyde says. ‘It’s about being able to recognise that you’re not the be all and end all and that other people have particular skills and talents that are worthy of being developed.’
You might recommend a colleague apply for an internally advertised position you think they’d be perfect for, or offer to mentor a fresh graduate. ‘Being a good role model means encouraging other people to step outside of their comfort zone and develop their own potential,’ Dr Hyde says.
And the same goes for hiring new workers. Good role models are in tune with their strengths and limitations and aren’t afraid to employ people who outshine them in some areas. ‘The best bit is, someone who has particular skills and strengths in one area will complement and enhance your skills and strengths in another area,’ Dr Hyde says.
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