Role Models: Oscar the Grouch vs. Cookie Monster

I couldn’t stop laughing. My 20 month old nephew was running around the living room imitating the cookie monster. A few years from now, he’ll still be imitating people, but perhaps with less excitement. Most people have role models.  Most people are role models. What kind of role model do you want to be – Cookie Monster, or Oscar the Grouch?

Often role models are obvious – our bosses, our parents, our friends.  Sometimes our role models are less obvious. I propose that we select our role models with more intent. Here are some basic questions to ask when selecting our role models.

  1. What kind of person, parent, friend, employee or leader do you want to be?
  2. Who in your circle does that well?
  3. What behaviours cause them to be successful?
  4. What behaviours do they avoid?
  5. What are their weaknesses?

Everyone has their weaknesses, including your role models.  Recognizing and accepting a role model’s weaknesses is part of the process.  You don’t have to be exactly like your role model.

Now to the tricky stuff – being a role model. Here is the trouble.  Often, you may not realize that you are a role model. You may never even talk to that person. You may never realize the impact you have on others.  We don’t usually go around thinking “I’m a role model, so I have to behave in such and such a way”.  Generally, we’re not really conscious of how others see us. A few years ago, I ran into a woman who was completing her master’s degree. She introduced herself, and told me that we had met two years previously, when I was giving a talk at the university. Here’s the kicker – she then said that I was the one who inspired her to complete her MA. I didn’t even remember her.  Whether I like it or not, I’m a role model.

Being a role  model is really about what kind of person, leader, manager, friend, collaborator (Insert role here), that you want to be. And then constantly monitoring your approach, reflecting on your experiences and adjusting your behaviour. I suspect that no one wants to be the negative role model, yet many people end up being the toxic boss, the unreliable friend. How does that happen?  Usually because they aren’t self-aware, or they aren’t taking the time to reflect on their impact on others – so they end up being “Oscar the Grouch”.  So who do you want to be?


1 reply »

  1. As I have mentioned before, “What others think of me is none of my business.” A very interesting take on that was aired in the Mash series on TV. Radar had singled out Hawkeye as his role model. Hawkeye lost his ability to operate on the carnage that he was constantly a part of and walked out of the operating theatre. This, of course, sent Radar into a tail spin marring his view of Hawkeye. When Hawkeye found out he went into a rage – why? you might ask. Well, first he failed himself, he walked out on an ongoing operation, he left the duty he had trained for, turned his back on his lifelong commitment to never do any harm, to heal. Next he finds out that he has disillusioned someone that he has great respect for and cares about a great deal.
    Failing yourself is bad enough because your boundaries weren’t as big as you envisioned, but to fail someone you didn’t know had set you on a pedestal of “Role Model” and you care about that person is nothing short of devastating. How does one come back from that?
    I am not Oscar the Grouch nor am I Cookie Monster. I have all I can do to just be me. The only thing I can be sure of is that I am the best me there is or ever was and I won’t change that one iota because someone else has stuck me on the pedestal of “Role Model”.
    No one I know of or ever heard of has ever been able to live up to the expectations of others all the time. I do not have role models, only Role Actions. If it’s good use it, if not discard it.
    “What others think of me is none of my business!”

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