“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another; it is the only one.”
– Dr. Albert Einstein
Throughout my formative stages, and well into my military and speaking career, I have always been undeniably inspired by the power of role models. We all have those people that embolden us to think big and dream big. And, for many of us, these influences don’t come in the form of a well-known figure, but rather from the people who impact our lives on a day-to-day basis. Maybe it’s a friend, a parent, or a teacher. Maybe, and probably so, you are that positive influence to someone else. The concept of “setting an example” is always on my mind. You never know who is watching you and how far your example and impact may travel.
In 2006, I remember going to the autograph line following my very first airshow as an Air Force Thunderbird pilot. There, I engaged in a lively conversation with a young girl by the name of Sarah. We talked about her dream of wanting to become a fighter pilot someday. I tried to pass on good advice and certainly provided my encouragement. I recall she looked at me as if I’d hung the moon. It was in this moment I fully came to realize that I was being viewed as a role model by someone, and the responsibility and accountability that came with it hit me hard (in a good way). Something about our conversation clicked for both of us, and we ended up exchanging e-mails. We stayed in touch, rather sporadically, over the years. And, today, I’m so proud to say she is not only an Air Force officer and fighter pilot, she even flies my old jet, the mighty F-15E Strike Eagle. We have chatted about that moment we shared on the autograph line a few times recently. Certainly, Sarah had to put in the hard work and her skills speak for themselves. But, she still acknowledges the energy my example added to her own motivation and enthusiasm. Surely, I’m biased, but it’s hard for me to put into words how cool I think this story is. It makes me feel like a made a positive difference in someone’s life. And, frankly that feels good.
My career has been public-facing for many years. I’m routinely reminded of, and quite mindful of, the impact my words, actions, and presence can have on those listening and observing. I’m in control of what I say and do, and the effects my messages have on my audience. I often speak to rooms full of leaders and encourage each and every one of them to think about their influence on others. How one word or action can make or break somebody else’s dreams. How one word or action can empower and enable somebody else. We chat about how their example can have ripple effects that improve team culture and result in increased elite performance. We talk about how those ripple effects can reach far beyond the walls of that room and impact people whom they’ve never even met.
Take time to reflect on the power of your influence. It’s directly linked to your integrity, your choices, your values, and your behavior. Go seek the examples you want to learn from and strive to be a role model in your everyday habits. Utilize that power to become a better, stronger, and more powerful person who can serve as a catalyst to others.
Think about the best role models you know and follow suit.