Finding a Role Model

Learning to fly by *Psyche Delia* is licensed under CC by 2.0  

Finding a Role Model

I’ve suggested before that you need to identify a role model to help you further your skills and career. You identify an area inside of yourself you want to change and find someone that you think represents the embodiment of that change. You consider why you think they are ideal, what they do differently, and how they do it. Then, you start practicing doing things the way they do. As you practice, you learn and grow your abilities in that area and before you know it, you have adapted their approach and tweaked it to make it your own. Find another area to grow and repeat. There are quite a few good things about this approach, however, there is a risk. You may get into the routine of only doing what others do and let your ability to experiment, innovate, and have original thoughts atrophy. Here’s how I have tried to balance the two approaches.

I stay self-examining and self-critical by watching the people I interact with. I try to see our interaction through their eyes and try to put myself in their shoes. How would I feel if I just had that interaction with myself and what I might perceive as negative? I think about who I know, have met or watched (interview, TV, etc.) that would give me the opposite feeling and then I deconstruct what they do at a tactical level. For instance, my wife is very good at making people feel important and special. For those working for her, she gets more from them than they know they can deliver - I don’t. I started watching how she does that at a very tactical level by taking an interaction I observed, thinking about how I would have had that interaction, and then comparing what she and I do differently. I tried a few of her methods, found some I like, and now they are mine. I didn’t take all of them; when I try a method and it does not feel genuine, I trash it.

To stay original and experiment with my skills, I look at trends in current events and visualize trying different approaches to change them for the better. For instance, in the US many young adults are having a hard time making ends meet as they leave home and many are not choosing (or cannot) to go to college. They may feel that it is too expensive and they cannot afford to go or they may not be interested because to them, the return (in salary upon graduation) is not a good value. I think about the problem and let questions surface that I think are relevant. I form one or more hypotheses based on the questions I have: how many kids of a certain age are there? How many are in school? How many are working? How many are not? Is there research on why the numbers are what they are and has there been a shift or has this always been the case? I look for successful and less successful areas for people shifting from education into the workforce and try to do root cause analysis on why things go well in some areas and not in others. I use modeling techniques to test out different approaches that are top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out. I think about what the tipping point is that will cause systemic change and how that point can be reached. From there I go back and look for someone that is successfully doing things right (in my opinion) and see how closely my idea and approach align. In this case, I believe that providing just-in-time training for specific atomic jobs skills is a good approach and driving more apprenticeship programs is an integral part of a solution. To date, I am seeing that apprenticeship programs are becoming more popular in the US and that other countries are well ahead in setting up programs. I see training content is available for very specific skill sets and tasks. While the change is primarily in the IT environment, it is gaining traction.

So what would I suggest?   

  • Do find someone that has a skill you admire and try to understand why.
  • Do find a problem that interests you and research it to gain context, form an opinion and grow your skills.
  • Do not just take someone’s approach and use it without modification. You need to make it work for you.
  • Do not think about things only from your perspective and station. Imagine you being the person in charge or with a different opinion to see things holistically.

As you practice these techniques they will start feeling more natural and before you know it, they will become as natural as breathing.

Andy Ruth
SEI Mentor
Apprenticeship Program