Last week the fabulous Emily Miles (Business Manager, London Leadership Academy) and I ran a couple of workshops at the Health & Care Women Leaders Network. We had a blast and the whole day was a beautiful blend of inspiring, thought-provoking and supportive presentations, sessions and conversations.
Emily and I engaged with our groups about how to ‘be the change you want to see’. The conversation encompassed advocating for and mentoring others, and how it feels when someone does that for you. When asked whether women were mentors, those who were actively mentoring put the hands boldly and clearly into the air. When asked if they were role models, hands were more tentatively raised accompanied by a sort-of-kind-of-but-I-can’t-possibly-admit-it-to-myself-or-others facial expression.
We often feel more comfortable to claim our role as mentors, possibly as it comes with some sort of job description, and we are asked by someone else to fulfil the role of mentor. Why, then, are we so reluctant to admit when we are role models? Is it modesty? Is it just that we are not sure? Or is it that we don’t feel qualified to label ourselves as such and that only others can talk about us in that way? Claiming it for yourself feels arrogant.
I listened to, and was inspired by, some amazing women at that conference. One of the inspirational forces behind This Girl Can, Strategic Lead Kate Dale; the bold and fearless ex-NHS England Director, Sam Jones; the funny and warm editor of Nursing Times, Jenni Middleton and the committed and smart Laura Kuenssberg (the BBCs first political editor). Each one an inspiration and role model, each self-deprecating at times. When complimenting one speaker at the event, she said to me ‘Really? I didn’t think I was so good’. Judging from the tweets, faces and conversation yesterday, each one of these women (and plenty more there) became, in that moment, role models for each of us in the room.
Sanjay Bhandari from Ernest Young (named as one of the top 100 most influential BAME people in business) made a thought-provoking suggestion when he intimated that you need to look at being a role model from a selfless rather than selfish perspective. This means that by avoiding claiming your responsibility as a role model, you’re doing others a disservice. This may be a more comfortable way to acknowledge your impact as a role model; by seeing it as a service to others. Sanjay reflected also that we are not great about acknowledging our strengths. I think this affects women in particular. He suggested trying to frame that claim by saying ‘what other people say about me is that I’m good at…’. You’ll soon drop the caveat.
And so what? Well, today, I challenge you to spend some time in the day acting like a conscious role model. Do or say something which you would like to see emulated for the benefit of others. It doesn’t have to be grande. It can be something small; a quiet act of kindness or a small moment of time in which you try to make something a little bit better. Someone, somewhere is learning from you, and seeing how your little differences can make big impacts. Work out what it means to you, and then be the change you would like to see.