Being a role model

George Haines
Director of Operations
Peregrine Leadership Institute, Gillette, Wyoming
Member, APWA Leadership and Management Committee

In November 2007, the APWA Leadership and Management Committee concluded its series of articles on public works leadership and management issues entitled "The Baker's Potluck." This was the third series of articles (the first being "The Baker's Dozen," the second being "The Baker's Menu") that discuss various leadership and management topics of interest to APWA members. The committee's new series is entitled "Recipes for Success" and touches on a variety of leadership and management topics. Along with each article is an actual recipe for a favorite public works dish submitted by a member. Each recipe is a favorite from the members in their department. Give them a try.

Definition of a role model: "A person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others." - Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In Sue Hann's article in the January 2008 APWA Reporter entitled "A career in public works: unlimited potential," she states, "You can always learn something from someone else. Watch the behavior of other people. Find good examples and bad examples." By learning from others, hopefully you won't have to repeat their mistakes. You will find some behaviors that work for you and others that will not. You will also learn that there is no single "right way" to do things. There are many right answers. As you learn from others, you will develop your own style which will lead you to the right answers that will make you successful.

There is no secret to becoming a role model at home, at work, and in your community. It's about character. In his book Louder than Words, Andy Stanley states the following:

"Your character is who you truly are.

  • It will impact how much you accomplish in this life.
  • It will determine whether or not you are worth knowing.
  • It will make or break every one of your relationships."

He also goes on to say that "character is the will to do what is right regardless of personal cost." It's about living your life based on a set of rock-solid principles. How do you know if someone is worthy of being a role model? How do you reveal someone's character? It may be difficult, because there are people who survive based on personality. Your character is like an iceberg. There is the part above the water that people see and the part below the water that only you know. Someone who is personality driven and of weak character can exist and even thrive for awhile on personality alone. As long as they get things done and build some momentum, their weaknesses stay hidden or don't receive much attention. However, when tough times come, people begin examining what is below the surface. All the warning signs that were there all along are exposed and people begin asking, how did this happen?

When I think of the words "role model," these words also come to mind: trust, respect, mentor, set-the-example, integrity, and connection. Whether it is someone you know, a historical figure, or someone in the news, for them to be a role model there has to be a connection. What causes you to connect with some people and not connect with others? In the words of John Maxwell, "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care." It is a very simple formula. People matter. Maxwell says, "A lot of stuff in life doesn't matter, but people matter." When people see that you care about them, when you are adding to a relationship, you will connect with people. Being a role model is more than modeling certain behaviors. It's about adding value to someone. It's about lifting others up. It's about impacting someone.

When we think of a role model, who comes to mind? We think of our parents, or another influential relative. We think about athletes on our favorite teams. Sometimes it is a teacher or even a historical figure. It could be a boss or a coworker. Let me tell you about some of my role models. Many of you have read my articles in the Reporter dealing with various leadership subjects. I have mentioned my two-year battle with cancer and have discussed it further in my sessions at Congress. When you have cancer, it becomes part of your identity. It takes up a significant portion of your time, either in treatments or in learning about it and seeking help and advice. It also causes you to seek role models, people who have gone there before who have set an example that you wish to emulate. My role models in the battle with cancer are the late Jim Valvano and Tony Snow. There are more visible figures that may come to mind to many of you, but I like Jimmy V because of his courage and positive attitude despite the odds, and also how he used his battle to create the "V Foundation for Cancer Research." Their motto is "Don't Give Up, Don't Ever Give Up." I wear one of their wristbands with that motto and it gives me an extra boost on those days when things aren't going so well. Jim Valvano's legacy goes beyond his national championship while coaching basketball at North Carolina State. His legacy is over $70 million in funds raised for cancer research in the 14 years since the foundation was started.

Tony Snow, the former White House spokesman, has openly discussed his faith and family as he battles a second round of cancer and chemotherapy, something that mirrors what I am going through. What I admire the most is his attitude. When you look at all that is facing you and you put as much as you can into the plus column and minimize the negatives, that is not only the way to face cancer, but the way to live every day.

Now, I have never met Jim Valvano or Tony Snow. So, how can they be role models? Simple, the connection is their character and the common link, cancer. I've seen them in action, heard them, seen the results of their actions and it has had a dramatic effect on me. Think about this. You are not only a role model for the people you know, but you may have an impact on people you will never know. That is a lot of responsibility if you choose to accept it. Or, you could choose the Charles Barkley way. This Hall of Fame NBA player simply states, "I'm no role model."

One of my role models in the public works arena was Jack Pittis, the former Region 9 Director who passed away in 2006. Many of you knew Jack far better than I ever did, but our paths crossed at a time when I needed direction and advice as to my involvement with APWA and how I could serve the organization. Without Jack's advice and the example he set, I might not be writing this article you are reading today. Other role models in my life are a former commanding officer from my Navy days, my father, and a former pastor of the church I attended as a child. They have all impacted me in different ways along the way, but what they all have in common is their impeccable character.

Now, take the words "role model" and substitute the word "mentor." Do you see any similarities? I believe they are one and the same. A mentor invests themselves in the life of someone else. So does a role model.

APWA has begun an online mentoring program through a series of interactive conference calls. The first one was held on Oct. 25, 2007 - "Dealing with Politics in the Workplace." The second one was on Jan. 24, 2008 - "Humble Beginnings, Unlimited Opportunities." The next two that have been scheduled are: April 24, 2008 - "Leadership and Management Core Competencies" and June 26, 2008 - "When is it Time to Move on?" Anyone can participate just by dialing into the conference call. Check the APWA website for more information. APWA has also begun the Emerging Leaders Academy. Sixteen persons chosen from across the country and in Canada will be participating in the program in 2007-8. It includes a two-day trip to APWA Headquarters in Kansas City and will culminate with attendance at Congress in New Orleans in August 2008. Opportunities are out there at both the national and local levels for you to seek out and find role models for your professional career. As a leader in local government your greatest legacy will be the people you have developed and those to whom you pass the torch. Look for opportunities to find good role models and seek mentoring opportunities. The investment you make in the life of another will be worth it!

"I think it's an honor to be a role model to one person or maybe more than that. If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person's life in a positive light, and that's what I want to do. That's what it's all about." - Tiger Woods, professional golfer

George Haines can be reached at (307) 685-1555 or at


1 lb. ground beef (browned)
2 cans Mexican beans
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can "chopped" jalapeĀ¤o/green chilies
1 chopped onion
1 envelope "dry" ranch dressing
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 can of water

Brown the beef and drain. Use all liquid from cans and put all the ingredients in a crockpot. Usually takes a couple of hours to get good and hot. Easy, easy, easy and very tasty.

Lisa McKenzie
Office Administrator
Wade Trim, Inc.
Grand Rapids, MI