Updated: Oct 3, 2021
Key Words: role modeling, mentor, social learning theory, leadership, legacy
Dr. Lisa M. Coffey
June 27, 2021
Role Model Defined
The term role model is interchangeable with hero or mentor. A role model is a person with whom a subject comes into direct or indirect contact who can influence their dreams, desires, and motivations. Subjects identify with role models in several ways: perceived similarities; emulating their behaviors, actions, and skills; and assimilating the role model’s attitudes, beliefs, and values. Role models are the substance from which dreams are made.
According to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, learning can occur in a
social setting through direct experience by observing other people’s behaviors and consequences (1971). Social learning theory allows us to understand that social influence is relevant. Modeled behavior is essential to human learning because establishing precedents through trial and error is necessary for future generations; these precedents provide good examples rather than allowing the future generations to repeat the same mistakes.
Observation requires four related processes: attention processes, retention processes, reinforcement processes, and motivational processes. For learning to occur, the subject has to recognize the essential elements of the behaviors to emulate. Research suggests that people usually choose which characteristics, behaviors, and skills of their role models to emulate, while adapting them to fit their own context.
The next step in the learning process, according to Bandura, is to retain a memory of the behavior and then rehearse the learned behavior. The last two processes, reinforcement and motivation, involve transferring the learning into action. This can only occur if the modeled behavior was received positively. Consequently, the subjects will only have success at emulating the model’s behavior when there are positive incentives.
In my book iDid and uCan 2, I write about parental influence: “Parental behaviors significantly influence your offspring as children and adults. Modeling good parental choices is a necessary parental strategy that provides a blueprint for children to follow at some point in their lives. Be mindful of your mood, have a keen self-awareness (plans, goals, moral compass, etc.), tend to your relationships, make swift decisions, implement changes, develop a positive family culture, and ditch criticism. By doing so, you are modeling behaviors and creating patterns for your offspring to mirror. In difficult and challenging situations, model behaviors you would like to see again.”
Be careful what you show. What behaviors and attributes are you displaying to your community of followers and those you influence? Will those you mentor display the positive or negative interactions from exposure to you as a role model in their lives?
Bandura, A. (1971). Social learning theory. General Learning Press.
© 2021 Lisa M. Coffey