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  • Terry R. Bacon

How to Be More Effective at Modeling

Modeling is influencing either by acting as a role model whom other people seek to emulate or by actively teaching, coaching, mentoring, or counseling them. When you model, you manifest a behavior, a way of thinking, or a way of being that others pattern themselves after. You are what they aspire to become. Now here’s a not-so-secret about modeling—you do it all the time whether or choose to or not. If you are a parent, teacher, supervisor, boss, manager, politician, religious leader, or hold any other position where people observe how you behave, think, solve problems, and make decisions, you are a role model. Whether you are a positive role model or a negative one, you are always influencing those you live, work, or interact with.

Here are some examples of modeling:

  • You are walking down a country road and a car stops beside you. The driver asks for directions. You smile, lean down, and tell him how to reach his destination. You are modeling friendliness and helpfulness. He feels good about you and appreciates your help. He remembers your interaction and is inclined to be friendly and helpful the next time someone asks him for directions.

  • You are a senior assembler in an auto plant. You observe someone junior to you doing something that takes more time than it should. During a break, you offer a suggestion that will save her time and make the assembly process more efficient. You are modeling good teamwork and the willingness to help colleagues. She is grateful for the tips and will reciprocate with other less-experienced teammates in the future.


Tips on Using Modeling

  • First, it is important to know what example you are setting. Spend some time thinking about this. At home, at work, socially, professionally, with your family, friends, colleagues, teammates, and children—what kind of role model are you? To a great extent, you have a choice about how to be, how to act, how to show moral courage (or not), how to make good decisions, how to work and play, how to treat other people—for most of us these are behavioral choices, tempered by upbringing, habit, customs, and life circumstances. You cannot pretend to be someone you aren’t, but you can make some conscious choices that will determine how others see you. You can smoke cigarettes—or not. You can exercise and take care of yourself—or not. You can apply yourself in school—or not. You can work diligently—or not. You can treat other people with dignity and respect—or not. You can keep your promises and fulfill your obligations—or not. What you cannot do is decide that you have no control over these choices. You do. So an important step in being an effective influencer through modeling is to think about what you want to model—and then make the choices necessary to be that person. Of course, this is not always easy, but it is crucial if you want to be a good, positive role model.

  • Walk the talk. Ensure that your words and actions are consistent. Saying one thing but doing another is a sure way to convince people that you are unreliable and untrustworthy. This can be challenging, and if you fail sometimes, admit that you did. Acknowledge it and learn your own lessons openly and transparently. It is okay to fall off the wagon—if you do not do it repeatedly. For example, if you smoked at one time and quit, you can role model by admitting that you once smoked but quit because you realized how unhealthy smoking is. Then if you are caught sneaking a smoke, it is best to admit your mistake—and quit again. Permanently. But if you are caught repeatedly sneaking a smoke, then you lose your credibility.

  • If you are a parent, behave like the adult you want your children to grow up to be. For parental role models, watch the parents in the film Easy A, Atticus Finch (portrayed by Gregory Peck) in To Kill a Mockingbird, Morticia and Gomez Addams in 1991’s The Addams Family, Molly and Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter films, Marmee March (the mother) in 2019’s Little Women, and Burt Hummel (the father) in the Glee films. These are just a few movies that depict strong, loving, supportive, and encouraging parents who are great role models for their children.

  • Remember that what people respect in role models is their competence, courage, tenacity, and positivity. These are the qualities you must project if you want to influence others by modeling.

  • People learn from others who have mastered a skill and demonstrate that mastery and from people who are knowledgeable and wise and show it in their thoughts, words, and actions. So strive to master whatever you are good at, whatever you love to do and are willing to devote your time and energy to. People will learn from how you apply yourself and some will want to develop your level of skill.

  • Find opportunities to teach others, to coach and mentor them, to offer advice and counsel. These roles enable you to show others the way and act as a role model. Most people are eager to learn and will consider you an example of how to think or act. Be reflective about how you developed your skills or got where you are. Sharing the lessons you have learned along your journey is a key way to help others understand the path.

  • Much role modeling is one-on-one, but if you want to have more impact with more people, then find ways to expand your audience: books, articles, podcasts, websites, social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and others), radio, television, videos (YouTube), performance events, clubs, teams, and so on. Your influence through modeling can be widespread and extensive if you use media to broadcast your message.

You will find more tips on using modeling effectively in Chapter 7 of Elements of Influence: The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead (AMACOM Press, 2012).

Photo credits: parents teaching their daughter: ID 188153870 © Milkos |; American football coach at halftime: Photo 206258854 / American Football Coach © Matteoguedia |; statue of Abraham Lincoln: Photo 1693290 / Abraham Lincoln © Kenk |

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