Why Great Leaders Use Role Models


By Jas Singh

Last week, the United Nation’s International Day of Happiness took place. Led by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon is a very well known person in his own right. Figurehead of the most well known intergovernmental organisation and previously a highly reputed international diplomat.

However what was interesting is how Ban Ki-moon decided to promote this day of celebration. Rather than simply take to the microphone himself and purely focus on political issues, he asked someone else to join in.

Not perhaps the most obvious person you would see associated with the UN.

Addressing the mic that day was the international superstar musician Pharrell Williams.

For those who have been stuck under a rock, Pharrell Williams was responsible for the blockbuster song “Happy” last year. 12 million records sold worldwide, number one in over 40 countries, Billboard, MTV and Grammy award winner. Not to mention 613 million YouTube views and counting.

But perhaps most powerful of all, a tune that makes us all feel happy.

You see Ban Ki-moon is a clever man. He realised that rather than take the centre stage – even with his tremendous power and popularity – sometimes others can have far more impact than even the most capable leaders. These “others” being role models – people who are associated with a particular belief, personality or feeling.

Not surprisingly, Pharrell’s short speec has gone viral on social media. Promoting International Happiness Day far more than any politician or diplomat could have.

Although leaders usually make the big decisions, this doesn’t mean they have to be seen as the ultimate example. The ideal person sitting at the top, who deserves all the credit. No,the greatest leaders usually set the example of following great role models themselves, encouraging others with the faith that they show.

In fact, nearly all the great religious leaders themselves managed to lead others not by promoting their own beliefs, but by using the ultimate role model of all. God.

Here are some reasons why great leaders use the power of role models.

1) Role models allow us to target new groups

The problem with most brands of leadership is that it isn’t particularly sexy. A political head, listed company CEO or healthcare leader isn’t what most people would pay to listen to. In fact, in many cases some of these group might not even be considered particularly trustworthy or inspirational.

Sure, there is always the Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs of this world but in general modern leaders are hardly international icons on a large scale.

Which presents a problem – how do you connect with diverse target groups?

Enter the power of role models. By using the pre-existing personalities of others leaders are able to connect with whoever they want. The young, the old, the rich, the poor. Male or female. Asian or American.

Advertisers have been doing this for centuries with products. But in an age of information overload, falling attention and overwhelming noise, it’s also an essential tool in leadership.

Great leaders use role models to connect.

2) Different role models allow us to convey different messages

As most marketers will tell you, to succeed in branding you need to be focussed. Crystal clear as to what you represent. In fact, in a recent post I also discussed how one word brand equity is now a big consideration for many companies.

You can’t just be everything. To be successful, you need to have a core identity. A single message, repeated continuously.

But what about businesses that need to convey different messages?

Enter the power of role models. By using different role models, leaders can convey different messages reliably. The UN used Pharrell Williams to promote Happiness day. For international women’s day they could use Beyonce. For international peace day Desmond Tutu. Philanthropy day, Bill and Melinda Gates.

Trying to connect powerfully across different messages using the same person would be extremely difficult.

In age of increasing organisational complexity, leaders need to often address multiple pressing issues. Co-operation. Compliance. Equality. Rather than trying to do this totally on their own, using respected role models can be far more effective.

3) Role models show humility and faith

But perhaps the most powerful aspect of a leader using a role model for his followers is the secondary impression it creates. It illustrates that the leader themselves is willing to follow someone who is respected. It shows humility and faith.

With so much prestige and responsibility associated with leadership positions, often leaders lead with authority. Trying to own and control every message coming out of the company. Sometimes this can be overpowering and alienate others. Leadership can get lonely.

Great leaders use role models as a way of also connecting with their followers. It shows a common belief, following and respect.


Great leaders use great role models.

Hiring managers should understand that simply emphasising authority and control is outdated – to attract the others common role models can be much more powerful.

Who is your role model?

Iopa Solutions

Be A Great Leader. Increase Your Hiring Power

If you are a hiring manager and want revolutionary results, please reach out here