Written by: Dale A. Hicks, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, Certified CEO Effectiveness Executive Coach
Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to have had a number of inspirational role models. These are individuals whom I recall endearingly as having contributed significantly to my growth, as an individual and as a professional, by encouraging me to broaden and challenge my thinking and to behave in previously unthinkable ways. They tended to be open-minded, encouraged brainstorming and exploring new ideas and new knowledge, welcomed questioning, honesty and open expression, provided an atmosphere of trust and safety, and facilitated divergent thinking that may not have comported even with their own beliefs. They respectfully listened and provided emotional support. It was not only acceptable to be wrong, but well-intentioned mistakes were viewed as opportunities to learn, not to feel ashamed.
I also have had the opportunity throughout my career to supervise hundreds of psychologists-in-training (post-doctoral residents, pre-doctoral interns and practicum students) and hope that at least a few will recall me as an inspirational role model. I do know, however, that for me, the process of facilitating others’ professional and personal growth, and observing their movement toward their truer selves and their greater potential, has been the most gratifying aspect of my career. That includes working with students, supervisees, clients, consultees and colleagues.
Dr. Anton’s analogy to swimmers being weighed down by invisible weights rather clearly articulates how we often constrain our own growth and achievements through unconscious and seemingly invisible weights (i.e. mental models, stereotypes and biases we hold about ourselves, others and the world, which may have little or no factual basis). In his book, Business Success Through Self-knowledge (2013), Dr. Anton also states that “self-knowledge (necessary to grow toward our truer selves and our greater potential) is best acquired interpersonally.” Thus, both being, and/or having, an inspirational role model can contribute greatly to the process of gaining self-knowledge. Within the context of such a relationship, each individual is forced to challenge their own mental models and to explore new ways of thinking and behaving.
To be the leader of a thriving organization that is constantly creating its own future and maintaining a competitive edge in its industry, it is critical to tap into the creative energy of every worker. Thus, it is essential to be an inspirational role model. The work of tapping into creative energy of others starts with developing the self-knowledge of the leader at the center of the team. The beauty of this is that it is a win-win strategy for the leader of the organization and for all of the individuals (including the employees) who hold a stake in that organization. The challenge, of course, is that it requires a conscious and constant choice to strive for, and to be open to, gaining greater self-knowledge and encouraging the same in others.