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  • Ruth Dettman

How to find the right role model (it’s messy)

I'd always been a bit wary of meringue.

In my adopted country of Australia, I’d see them on the store shelves and think to myself 'What’s the point of a dry crumbly thing like that?’

Then I discovered (drumroll) the Eton Mess. Suddenly, meringue made sense to me! Mixed with a LOT of whipping cream and beautiful fresh strawberries, THAT was a dessert that worked for me!

When I was working in corporate, role models felt a little like dry meringue to me. I felt that there wasn't one perfect person who had all the answers. I needed more variety and some different flavours to get my mouth watering.

I needed more of an Eton Mess more-is-more approach to role models.

Now, as a coach, I see many of my clients trying to find that perfect person to look up to and be inspired by.

My client Lydia (not her real name) recently (and tentatively) asked me:

"Am I doing the right things to be a good leader?"

She works in a male-dominated industry and feels she doesn't have a lot of people to confide in.

In fact, I’ve heard this question, phrased many ways and countless times from my clients. Stepping into a leadership role is tricky for anyone.

Unlike technical expertise, good leadership is often more nuanced. It’s dependent on the mix of people and environment. My clients crave sound advice that feels relevant to them. But they don’t know where to find it.

So where do you go for advice?

You can look to people who, on the surface, seem like someone you can relate to. However, digging a bit deeper, you may find that their background or current situation is very different. It’s hard to take advice from someone who hasn't faced the same sort of challenges as you.

Of course, there’s always Google! Doing a search for leadership books on Google returns 60,000+ results. You know that the advice contained within those 60,000+ books will likely conflict. What to believe? Who to believe?

How to find your perfect Eton Mess role model

  1. Get nosy: In my experience, staying curious is the short answer to finding the perfect role model. I don't believe that one person has all the answers even if, on the surface, their context and personality are similar to yours. So you need to look more broadly to get inspiration.

  2. Create your Eton Mess: Pull together a composite avatar of the leadership characteristics you admire most in the leaders who cross your path. Take what you need from each of them, in a deliberate way.

  3. Get friendly with the aliens: While I’d never recommend reading 60,000+ books to find the right answer, I would encourage you to read books (or listen to audiobooks) that you are both drawn to and feel alien to you. Taking on perspectives that are different from your own is an essential feature of a good leader.

Sometimes the best solutions aren’t always neatly wrapped up in a bow. In fact, in business, there’s rarely one definitive solution that can fix everything.

So get comfortable with things being a bit Mess-y – it’ll taste all the sweeter for it in the end.


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