What earns the status of role model in today’s society?

I guess when we’re younger we have in our minds the type of people we aspire to be like, but does it all just come down to who’s in the spotlight that inspires us? Or, when we think of potential role models, do we look at what they’ve achieved, rather than what they’ve done to create so many likes on Facebook or ‘break’ the internet?

In all industries, we’re constantly trying to put a name out there. One that is recognised as a true representation of our industry sector, our beliefs and influences, how we are perceived by the new generation or wider audience. Over the last two weeks, there have been occasions where the concept of “role model” has been brought to our attention.

So what determines a role model?

Let’s start with the definition: “a person whose behaviour, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people” or should this now be updated to “how many followers they have, how much coverage they’ve had in the media, regardless of their own personal achievements?”

Have we become a society obsessed with reality? Whether this be watching reality TV shows or programmes that follow the lives of celebrities and personalities? We endeavour to put these people on a pedestal and encourage the next generation to want to be like them, but hang on, remind me what have they really achieved? (Notice I’ve not mentioned any names.)

Could it be said that we are guilty of the same in our own industries with well-known figures? By doing this are we sometimes forgetting about those who have actually created incredible stories and earnt the status of the “role model”?  Do we sometimes forget the true meaning and hand out this crown far too easily?

This week I met with Lance Sgt Johnson Gideon Beharry VC. He was the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross for over 30 years, but it’s more than just the honour bestowed on him that impresses, his story really struck a chord with me. While on duty on 11th June 2004, a rocket propelled grenade hit Lance Sgt Beharry’s vehicle incapacitating his commander and injured several of the squad. Despite his very serious head injuries, Sgt Beharry took control of his vehicle and drove it out of the ambush area before losing consciousness. He required brain surgery for his head injuries, and he was put through his paces during his rehabilitation and recovery.

role models saergent
Lance Sgt Johnson Gideon Beharry VC. at London HQ

Incredible story, as despite his experiences, this man has continued to take responsibility for his additional duties as a role model, even though he never asked for them. In his own words he said “To maintain that positive image is pretty tricky at times and can be hard work. Some say I’m a proper hero compared to a footballer or sportsmen. Whereas I would call them all legends within their fields, and still great role models for the younger generation.” I then mentioned how these people can be perceived differently in the press, with some subsequently gaining celebrity status and Lance Sgt Beharry replied with this very simple conclusion. “I’m a normal person, still doing normal things and just trying to make a difference in society.”

So although the above mentioned are role models they aren’t necessarily good ones – its society that tells us they are and regardless of good or bad behaviour , it will always be emulated. There are no set categories when defining role models,  but Lance Sgt Beharry concluded perfectly when he described himself as just a ‘normal person still doing normal things’, yet he is still striving to make a change. So is there a need for us to redefine role models within our industries who actually do the above? Or is someone who wins lots of awards a role model? Turns up to networking events? Has their opinions published in media outlets? Or predicts the future?

Maybe our industry role models need to take a leaf out of Lance Sgt Beharry’s book, by focusing on the task in hand, being approachable  and setting the right example. ‘Normal’ in our industry should be supporting the next generation of talent, giving back to the community in which we work and promoting the industry to the wider business network. Rather than it just being about self-promotion, maybe we need to start redefining it all again…

Ryan Curtis-Johnson

(Sgt Beharry charity work includes his JBVC Foundation, which helps steer under privileged kids away from a life of gangs and crime. He is a Special Ambassador for Headway – the brain injury association and is involved with Help for Heroes.)


  1. I think, for me, the only people I’ve ever seen as role models have been my parents and grand parents. My parents ran pubs for 30 years. They worked long, hard hours every day. At one point they went bankrupt but they didn’t let that stop them. They started again and clawed their way back up from nothing. For 3 years I barely saw my dad due to work and my mum had 4 jobs, just to pay the bills. There was a lot of struggling in that time. But they never gave up. They always took on what was thrown at them.
    As for my grandparents, my nan worked on the farms in the land army during the war. My grandad worked at GEC/Wingets for years and refused to stop working. He stopped at 72 when he developed Dementia. My nan and grandad never took handouts and would always help any family member in need. They’d give you the coat off their back. They never had much money but they always got by one way or another. They were very family focused.
    For me, a role model is someone who is an emotional rock. Someone who will be there for you. They Instil good morals in you, bring out the best in you and guide you through life.
    I’ve never really looked at celebrities as a role model for myself but that’s not to say they can’t be for others. My role models however, come from close to home. People I respect for the struggles they’ve overcome and they love they emanate.

    Liked by 1 person

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