If you’ve been reading hot news topics of late, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a leadership void.
Yet every single day at Axiom we’re working with business leaders at international organisations and we see something very different: Committed leaders working tirelessly to lead not just well but better through these escalating times of change.
We therefore found it refreshing to discover that each November there’s an American celebration, no not thanksgiving, but for national role models.
While you may not be living in the USA, we thought why not grab the opportunity to scratch beneath those glum headlines and instead remind ourselves of some truly inspirational leaders?
So, here seven Axiom colleagues share who their leadership role models are and why. Drawn from past and present, far and wide, the nominations are all different but there are some common attributes that radiate from these leading lights.
As you read about those who illuminate our world, why not ask yourself who inspires you, and how you can brighten the world of those that you lead.
Given that this celebration stems from the States it only seems fitting to start with role models that call the country home.
Role model 1: Barack Obama
The 44th US President, Barack Obama, is the choice of coach and consultant, Cami Joerin.
“He’s eloquent, articulate, considered and seems so grounded and balanced,” says Cami, who is particularly inspired by Obama’s speeches.
“I can’t help but feel he speaks from the heart on issues that affect all of humanity and, while President, I believe he worked hard to overcome divisions, to bring people together for the greater good, no matter their political persuasion or background.”
Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, while still in office, for his ‘extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples’.
While the peace prize officially recognises his quest for unity, the theme is one that emerges among many of the other role models that follow.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other times.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
We are the change we seek.”
Role model 2: Reese Witherspoon
Reese Witherspoon, best known for her acting role as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, is perhaps the surprising choice of our lead writer Alex Duff.
“What many may not know about Reese is her passion, purpose and pursuit to redress the gender imbalance of female leads in Hollywood. She, for me, is the embodiment of being the one to lead the change we seek. Against all advice and following more than her fair share of knock backs, she invested in herself to start a production company dedicated to bringing women-led stories to the screen. These are stories with strong female characters, with all the complexity that entails.”
Reese, like Obama and so many other leaders, is a prolific reader (she has her own book club). Her business ventures have seen her become the world’s richest actress and she received the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award.
Her success is testament to the need not only for diversity but for inclusivity. And getting underrepresented voices heard is certainly another theme that emerges for many of the Axiom team’s chosen role models.
“What is it that people have said that you cannot do?
Wouldn’t it feel really good to prove them all wrong?”
Role Model 3: Nelson Mandela
Even eight years after his death Nelson Mandela remains a leader that requires no introduction and is the role model of choice for our consultant, coach and speaker, Neil Munz-Jones.
Neil cites “Mandela’s ability to learn from the past yet focus all his efforts on the future without holding grudges,” as the reason why Mandela remains his leadership role model.
“He experienced such adversity, he certainly had more than enough reason to hold a grudge, so it’s easy to see how his story could have been very different,” Neil adds.
Yet when Mandela emerged from his darkest days, he was flooded by light, a light that lifted not only a nation but the world.
He was simply brimming with emotional intelligence, pursuing his vision to end a lifetime of division with compassionate determination.
A great example of Mandela always looking to find ways to unify people was during his address to the Laureus World Sports Awards in 2000 ‘Sport has the power to change the world’.
“Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear.
That’s why it is such a powerful weapon.”
Role Model 4: Sir Alex Ferguson CBE
It’s perhaps no surprise that leaders from the world of sport also rank among the Axiom team’s top picks. Our first sports leader is chosen by consultant, coach and keynote speaker, Miles Henson, who works with elite sports teams as well as global businesses. His role model is former Manchester United football team coach, Sir Alex Ferguson CBE.
While there are many stories about Sir Alex being ruthless, especially with the media, Miles argues his leadership strength was his versatility.
“He was a strong leader, who could be difficult, so it’s easy to see how he could have overplayed his dominant traits. But he was brilliant at working out that one player needed him to be like this, while another player needed him to be something different, then adapting his style to it,” explains Miles.
“I’m not saying he went easy on his players, but he led with honesty and integrity and never criticised any of them in public. That built trust and gained him the respect of his team. They knew they could go and talk to him about anything, which enabled him to create high performing teams.
“Once you bid farewell to discipline you say goodbye to success.”
Sir Alex Ferguson
Role Model 5: Marcus Rashford MBE
Sticking not only with the sport but with the club, footballer Marcus Rashford MBE is a role model for consultant, facilitator and Master Executive Coach, Sheila Hirst, for his food poverty campaign.
Rashford’s own life experiences of food poverty growing up, saw him campaign to secure free school meals during the holidays for thousands of children who would otherwise go hungry.
Sheila respects Rashford’s leadership for “standing up for children and in doing so changing the perception of footballers”.
Rashford is a perfect example of why your role doesn’t define you. He didn’t hold the top job, he probably never saw himself as a leader, but the way he used his voice and acted led him to emerge as one.
“These children are the future of this country. They are not just another statistic.
As long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”
Marcus Rashford MBE
Role Model 6: Audrey Hepburn
Another role model, who dedicated herself to child welfare, is Audrey Hepburn and she’s the leadership selection of Axiom consultant, Michelle Nicholson.
While arguably one of the greatest movie stars of all time, with classics like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn’s leadership legacy stems from her humanitarian work as a special ambassador for UNICEF.
Despite her stardom, Hepburn remained humble. She turned her back on acting at the height of her career to dedicate herself to helping children in crisis all over the world – something she did until the day she died.
Awarded the highest civilian honour available, Hepburn received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was posthumously given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
“People even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed. Never throw out anyone.”
Role Model 7: Niki Lauda
Our final role model is the pick of Axiom’s Managing Director, Chris Carey. There was absolutely no hesitation from him with his selection – motor racing legend and businessman, Niki Lauda.
“He overcame adversity to inspire so many around him, in sport, in business and in life,” says Chris, who had the pleasure of meeting his hero after a Formula One (F1) race in the UK.
Lauda certainly proved his unwavering determination to succeed time and again on the track, in the skies and in the boardroom. Returning to F1 as a consultant, at the then underperforming Mercedes team, he was instrumental in persuading Lewis Hamilton to join the team and helped assemble an outstanding squad of talent that really delivered results. Several world driver’s and constructor’s titles later his legacy lives on long after his sad passing.
“From success you learn nothing.
From failure and setbacks conclusions can be drawn.”
Now it is your turn to shine
Now we’ve shared who inspires us, let’s put the spotlight on you. Who are your leadership role models? What is it you admire about them? And how can you apply their qualities to help brighten up the lives of those around you? After all everyone needs a little light in their life, especially in these dark and difficult days.
Axiom’s passion is helping organisations realise their full potential through the actions of their own people. We focus on practical application – inspiring and equipping leaders to take their teams with them on their journey to excellence. If you are a leader looking to develop yourself or your team, we’d love to partner with you. We provide leadership coaching and development programmes that help cultivate inclusive, digitally-savvy and purposeful leaders. You can download our leadership development prospectus here or reach out to us email@example.com.