At a recent workshop on Mentoring, I stressed to the audience composed of mentors and mentees that one of the key roles for mentors was to be role models. I can imagine that this landed on some of the mentors like a lead balloon. No, they could never be “off”; they must always be modeling the behaviors and leadership styles that the company encourages.

How much of a burden is this responsibility? It can be a big burden if one is projecting a different persona when at work. Putting on a mask in order to impress or to fulfill someone else’s idea of what a manager or a leader is can be exhausting and difficult.

Why do we do this to ourselves? What is it about our images of those in leadership that cause us to masquerade as two-dimensional paper cutouts of who we think we should be: Authoritarian know-it-alls who speak more than they listen and never fail to aggrandize their own selves.

When I shared the idea that one must be a role model, I was actually thinking about how, as a leader, one must be authentic.

So what do I mean by authentic in order to be a role model? An authentic leader is aware of his abilities and the impact he has on others. She is able to listen carefully and empathically and make decisions when necessary. A true leader knows that what he does will be seen and emulated by others and, therefore, acts and speaks with integrity. A true leader is not afraid to express vulnerability.

I recently read The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Don Miguel Ruiz. In this book, the author asks us to follow four dicta in order to be ourselves – free of the strictures that come from needing to fit in or imitate others.

These are:

  • Be impeccable with your word – say what you mean and be aware of the impact of your words
  • Don’t take anything personally – not to be attached to judgments, wins, losses or others’ views
  • Don’t make assumptions – so much of our relationships are based on what we assume about ourselves and others rather than based on the truth
  • Always do your best – with everything, and even as you try to fulfill the three earlier agreements, strive to do your best

I think these apply so well in this situation. In order to be the best role models we can be, we need to do our best to be our authentic selves.

Who are your role models and how do they fulfill these four agreements?