12 Business Leaders on How Role Models Influenced Their Pathway to Leadership

by | May 4, 2023 | Blog

Role Model

To understand the impact of role models on leadership development, we asked professionals from various fields to share their experiences. From embracing core values to showing empathy in people management, here are 12 insightful stories shared by leaders, including a Chief Product Officer, an HR Manager, and many others.

  • Embracing Core Values and Leading by Example
  • Learning From Experience and Mentorship
  • Communication: A Key Leadership Skill
  • Motivation and Determination From Athletes
  • Diverse Teaching Approaches Shape Leaders
  • Humility and Helping Others
  • Diverse Role Models Enhance Leadership
  • Flexibility and Authenticity
  • Learning From Various Experiences
  • Patience and Teamwork
  • Guidance and Personal Growth
  • Empathy in People Management

Embracing Core Values and Leading by Example

The role models in my life encouraged and empowered me to work to my fullest potential. They established meaningful core values to help me build discipline and grow acquainted with pivotal workplace principles, such as productivity, teamwork, and accountability. My role models lead by example, carrying themselves with unrelenting professionalism, patience, and perspective while influencing the development of my leadership skills.

Andrew Chen, Chief Product Officer, Videeo


Learning From Experience and Mentorship

The best part about learning from people more experienced than you is that you get a ready roadmap where the pitfalls are already marked for you to avoid. My father’s definitely been my biggest influence—he not only founded our law firm but continues to share his wide-ranging experiences without inhibitions. Today, I already know of situations where I need to tread carefully and steer my team clear of trouble. I am equally aware of opportunities where my leadership skills can open new doors. And ‌I know how vital it is to create other leaders to whom I can delegate some of my duties so I can concentrate on my core competencies.

Riley Beam, Managing Attorney, Douglas R. Beam, P.A.


Communication: A Key Leadership Skill

Role models have had a profound effect on my journey to becoming a leader. One example of this is a guidance counselor I had when I was in high school. They provided unyielding support and continuously encouraged me to be my best, helping me break out of my comfort zone and take initiative. Through their guidance, I learned the importance of communication not only for individuals leading initiatives but for everyone who takes part. By seeing how this role model interacted with others by making sure that everyone’s voice was heard, I understood why it’s so essential and something that I now strive to do any chance that I get.

Julia Kelly, Managing Partner, Rigits


Motivation and Determination From Athletes

Always look at athletes for inspiration. Serena Williams reminds us to never lose focus on the dream. She inspires people from all walks of life, even in the professional sense, that anything can be done with hard work and determination. One of her quotes says, “A champion is defined not by their wins, but by how they can recover when they fall.As a leader, we need to motivate and encourage employees to find that focal point and aim for greatness. Through any hardships we may face as a company or individually, anything is achievable with a sharp and driven mindset.

Stephanie Venn-Watson, Co-founder, fatty15


Diverse Teaching Approaches Shape Leaders

I have two uncles with a wealth of leadership experience, and both have been mentors in my leadership development. One teaches through anecdotes, meaning he analyzes every situation through the lens of prior experiences and what he did and learned at the time. My other uncle teaches through content. Every situation is an opportunity for a new book, article, video, or seminar. He has introduced me to a wealth of the best thoughts in business and leadership. Both approaches have been equally critical for my development, and something I carry with me as I become a role model for others.

Trevor Ewen, COO, QBench


Humility and Helping Others

My first corporate job out of college was customer service related. It was my first day in a big office with a cube farm. I walked to the kitchen to get water from the cooler. All was well until I turned around with a full Nalgene water bottle without the top screwed on. I crashed right into the President of the entire organization. Water poured out onto the floor in a flash flood. And you know what? He was as nice as could be. He stooped down with paper towels and helped me clean it all up and he said, “The floor needed a bath today, anyway.” It was an incredible example of leadership that I will never forget and hold with me daily. You’re never too important to help others.

Colleen Sproull, Content Marketing Manager, Evinex


Diverse Role Models Enhance Leadership

Diverse role models in personal and professional life help in shaping effective leadership skills. Learning from different individuals with varying perspectives, qualities, and experiences provides a much-needed perspective that allows one to become a more adaptable leader. Observing traits such as emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and problem-solving from these diverse role models helps in personal growth and leadership development. It is essential to prioritize diversity and seek role models from different fields and backgrounds to build a well-rounded leadership skill set that can be used in any situation.

Tarun Saha, Co-founder and CEO, StallionZo


Flexibility and Authenticity

A lot of advice around leadership makes it seem like there is a single path to follow. But this kind of rigidity doesn’t hold up when you curate a long list of role models. By finding inspiration from a variety of sources, from my father to Steve Jobs, I’ve learned a valuable lesson about flexibility. The best leaders are those who play to their personal strengths. Trying to be something you’re not is a recipe for failure. So adapt, don’t emulate. Take cues from your role models and then shape them into your own personality for a leadership style that’s authentic and sustainable.

Travis Hann, Partner, Pender & Howe


Learning From Various Experiences

Teachers, parents, colleagues, managers, and every adult or person with power are all role models. I have had hundreds of role models who have influenced my leadership style. Some steered me in the wrong direction. I saw successful people with a scarcity mindset, and for a long time, that was mine. I felt like I needed to get the better end of a deal every time and focus entirely on my own interests instead of those of the surrounding people. Over time, I found influencers who had an abundance mindset. I learned that the best deals were those where everybody came away from the table with more. I realized that exercising my power in a “command and control” leadership style delivered results in the short term, but wasn’t sustainable. Now, I try to include people at all levels in the decision-making process and I find they feel valued and want to contribute more to the team. I’m glad I had these experiences (good and bad) because I have clarity and direction.

Dennis Consorte, Digital Marketing and Leadership Consultant for Startups, Snackable Solutions


Patience and Teamwork

At a High School Leadership camp, my mentor intervened during a competitive challenge. He could see that I could see the solution clearly and immediately and I was getting frustrated with the slow progress being made by our team, but could not get everyone lined up to listen to my idea of which would secure a win. He took me aside and said that solving this challenge quickly and winning was only a small part of the exercise. Building the team’s confidence was just as important, and he asked me if I would be patient enough and watch what the team could do without me and my ideas. Take part by being supportive and facilitating to give everyone a voice. In essence, making it about them and not me. I initially felt hurt, but I trusted him and supported the team. So I stepped back a bit and watched as my team members grew. A lesson that seemed to be a paradox to me at the time turned out to be one of the most impactful lessons in leadership that helped me throughout my career.

Yolande Grill, COO, InfoSol Inc.


Guidance and Personal Growth

My two biggest role models are my parents. Throughout my life, they’ve guided me to make the right decisions, but giving me enough freedom to make mistakes and grow. They both lead by example and guide rather than tell. This has become second nature for me and, whenever I take a leadership role, I believe I’m a genuine leader. Guiding and helping others reach their full potential.

Tara Bennet, Astrologer, Clairvoyant, Spiritual Coach, and Compassionate Empath, Mediumchat Group


Empathy in People Management

When thinking about the role models in my life and the lessons I’ve taken into leadership roles, the #1 influence absolutely has been the role of empathy in people management. This doesn’t mean pretending to just care about your team, it means genuinely showing that you do, and striving to better the personal development and well-being of every single person under your leadership.

Wendy Makinson, HR Manager, Joloda Hydraroll


Servant leadership using the “Start-Stop-Continue” method

The role model who directly influenced my perspective as a leader was Major General Josue (Joe) Robles, Jr., CEO of USAA. He explained the method of using an anonymous “start-stop-continue” survey he would hand out to get a pulse on what the employees at USAA expected of him.  He handed them out randomly to anyone in the organization; SVPs, front-line representatives, and even the maintenance crew.  For me, that was the sign of a true servant leader.  He would immediately address the things people wanted him to stop doing; it takes a special type of emotional intelligence to handle this type of feedback.  He would then address the things people wanted him to start doing and make it a priority.  He even took the things the staff wanted him to continue to do seriously to make sure he even did those more effectively.  He never let his position as CEO / President or even a two-star Major General be a deterrent to being a leader of all people, no matter their status in the organization.

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