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From Impossible to Possible

Looking back, we can often see points in our lives where things changed and took a new turn. My 10-year high school reunion was one such example. I learned from Pippin, one of my high school friends, that he had done what I had only been dreaming of since age 15. It took another two years before I acted on it, but Pippin’s story of building a kit boat and setting sail transformed going cruising from a dream to a possibility. His modeling led to my own boating adventures and many of the most formative experiences of my life. How modeling can create these mindset shifts cannot be overstated.

World Records

In the 1950s it was commonly believed that running a mile in under four minutes was impossible. It was thought that doing so would cause your heart to explode. Then, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile with a time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. Within 46 days, John Landy, an Australian, had broken Bannister’s record. Since then, more than 1,500 people have broken the 4-minute mile, including high school runners. More than breaking the world record, what Bannister did was to break a prevailing mindset, to transform the impossible to possible, much as my friend did for me.

The Most Important Concept in Leadership

The examples above are about beliefs and inspiration at a grand level, but more mundane modeling is wider spread and societally more important. It starts with the modeling of our parents. During our early years, particularly from birth to age 7, we form our most basic understanding of how the world works and how to behave and navigate our lives. Our parents’ modeling provides the bulk of that understanding. As we grow older and begin to influence others, including our own children, we become the models. Regardless of our status, we all have people who are watching us for clues on how to behave and how not to behave. But in a leadership setting, the stakes are multiplied. Put succinctly, people do what people see. Being a good role model is the onramp to leadership.

No one will believe you're serious until they see you doing what you're asking of others. — James Kouzes & Barry Posner, “The Leadership Challenge”

Role Modeling as a Choice

Conscious role modeling can have personal benefits. There is no better way to elevate our own standards than to adopt a self-image as a role model. Seeing ourselves as examples to others calls us to a higher level by raising our desire to do what is right. Unfortunately, we are living in a time that is desperate for good role models. This is especially true in fatherless households. Data show that both male and female children have better long-term outcomes when they grow up with positive male role models. If I could change one thing in the world, it would be to get more of these role models into the communities where they are most lacking. Whether from parents, high school friends, or the boss at work, modeling matters.


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