The Role of a ‘Role Model’

When I was growing up, I didn’t have any role models in my circle of family and friends – folks who had achieved the heights of success in their professional lives, and could serve as a guiding path to those who are just starting out on their journey.

I had to overcome several obstacles and navigate uncharted waters, to graduate from one of the top colleges of the country (St. Xavier’s) with honors. Soon after a brief stint in Sales, I pursued a Business Management degree in Marketing, and once again, found myself with more questions than answers. Once more, there was hardly any one I could personally approach to seek guidance from, in terms of the significant life choices that lay ahead…

Should I join a small firm (with a wider exposure to work) or a large, well-known brand (with a much smaller role in it)? Will industry X have better growth prospects than industry Y? If I wish to ultimately head a function or department, what’s the best path to it? What does one actually do in senior roles in a mid-large size organization?

Do bear in mind that this was circa 1990-1998, well before the Internet had democratised information access for all.

Even in later years, as my awareness of the world improved and I had better access to organizational resources, there were many questions I faced as a young professional. In these situations, I wished it was possible to seek help from other, more experienced, role models.

The sad reality is that, even with all the information we want, now available at our fingertips, some of these answers are still hard to come by.

If we come from privileged backgrounds or families, we don’t quite realize how hard it is for many folks to get good advice, or shape their career paths & aspirations on the lines of senior (and successful) professionals that can ‘show them the way’.

This post is an attempt to fill some of those gaps.

As someone who has experienced organizations of all shapes and sizes, and worked across many functions, I am often asked for advice from students and junior colleagues. I do what I can to encourage and address those questions to the best of my abilities. That’s a big part of why I teach as Visiting Faculty in business schools, and occasionally take up a budding, young professional to mentor him/her through a difficult phase.

I urge you folks to do the same – use every opportunity to help others who are struggling to find answers to the tough questions. Speak to young professionals (and students) regularly. Ask questions, so you can understand their reality better. Encourage questions, so you can help them navigate their dilemmas. Make some time for this in your busy lives, even if it means weekends, so you can be accessible to them.

If you are past 50 years of age, seriously consider ‘reverse mentoring’ in your organization to stay in touch with changing realities – it will only enrich your own Life and perspective. If you are in a desk job, take the opportunity to get out more and interact with your channels & customers – it will give them a chance to reach you. If you have forgotten your modest beginnings, take a moment to remind yourself where you came from and what you used to struggle with – it will enable you to offer help in a way that is relevant to others.

Providing jobs is not the only way to help people. And, you don’t have to be a CxO to be able to offer good advice. Every one can make a difference – we only have to commit ourselves to it.

2020 is behind us… It’s time to set some worthy goals and get cracking, don’t you think?