Looking for Business Role Models? Be Wary Of Celebrity CEOs With social media, where our youth spend most of their time, the loudest voices, or the most popular ones, are not always the best examples to follow.
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Watching my two daughters grow up, I have seen my fair share of role models go in and out of their lives. From musicians and actors, to athletes and politicians, each of these role models have left an impression on them throughout their childhood and adolescence- some for good, and others not.
This, however, got me thinking about the role models youth take on from high school, university years, and later in life, especially in the entrepreneurship community. Upon closer inspection, we see a massive gap between the behavior shown by so-called "celebrity CEOs," and what truly makes a good leader. This gap may lead a lot of up-and-coming entrepreneurs astray. Indeed, this type of behavior that young entrepreneurs look up to may end up hurting your business, friends, or even family.
Let's examine a few of these behaviors, and what we should be looking for in positive entrepreneurial role models instead.
THE MYTH OF THE "HEROIC" LEADER VS. EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP
Leadership isn't about "my way, or the highway," it's about creating other leaders. We may view some CEOs as strong-willed leaders, pushing ahead with projects or innovations others said weren't worth it, or yelling "You're fired!" if people get in their way. They fight tooth and nail to push through what they want, and everybody has to get in line.
While this sounds poetic and heroic, this may be the worst way to run a business or a startup in the real world, and a surefire way to demotivate your team. As a business grows, the people you bring on -and how you empower them to meet the challenges you are trying to solve- can make or break your business. Furthermore, the people you bring on eventually need to grow to become leaders in their own right to hire people for their teams, and contribute to the sustainability of your operation.
Keeping that in mind, when looking for a role model, youth should seek leaders who build up other leaders. Building up other leaders conveys wisdom, strategic foresight, and a genuinely trustworthy personality that people can rally behind. This is the kind of leadership and role model that future entrepreneurs and young people need to learn from. This is the type of positive behavior that builds up stronger ecosystems.
POPULARITY IS NOT THE SAME AS CAPABILITY
It's easy to confuse popularity with capability. For all the news about the big tech darlings and famous unicorn companies with their flashy CEOs, thousands, if not millions, of other companies are growing successfully, and quietly going about their business. Just because a CEO has the loudest platform doesn't mean their ideas are worth listening to, or that their behavior is worth modeling. The spotlight is brief, and it can often be unkind in the long run, so young people and future entrepreneurs should also look within their communities for role models. This could also be an opportunity to connect with them as mentors, and have them give you more applicable advice than random tweets or soundbites from other CEOs.
There are many examples of great leadership close to home that young people need to be aware of, such as those leading companies like Careem or Tarjama. Even the stories of Souq.com, or how Aramex grew over the years, are shining positive examples for youth in the region.
Moreover, just because someone is famous for doing one thing does not necessarily mean they can do something else well. Only some ventures of celebrity entrepreneurs end up doing well. Just because they were good in one business area does not make them geniuses in another industry. Buying the hype of one person does not mean their success is easily transferable to another area. That's why future entrepreneurs should try to look for people working in similar fields, who can provide more appropriate queues and relevant lessons within their industry.
EVERYTHING DOES NOT REVOLVE AROUND YOU
The bigger your company grows, the less it becomes about you as a person, and more about the systems you put in place, and the people you empower to run things. The founder must set the company's tone, values, and direction in the early stage of a company. However, as the company grows, the founder's role becomes less critical, and more value is placed on systems, processes, and people. Not only do new investors and funders limit a founder's authority, but more people have a say in the running of the business.
Hanging on to power past this point could lead to conflict and mismanagement. We see this in the number of founders of big companies who have stepped aside to let other CEOs run their businesses. We have also seen many boards oust the founder, and replace the management. Hanging on to power touches on our first point of nurturing other leaders. A leader who knows when it's time to hand over the reins to the right people is the type of role model young entrepreneurs need. If you want to see what you have built continue to grow long after establishing it, you need to learn to let go. This also hits on the values of teamwork, empowering others, and fostering strong communities and cultures.
We need to be careful who we look up to nowadays. With social media, where our youth spend most of their time, the loudest voices, or the most popular ones, are not always the best examples to follow. Instead, youth should look to those who are extraordinarily humble and who quietly persevere through challenges. They may not be in the news or on social media as much, but they are out there.