Learning from people you admire

In this time of massive change it is becoming increasingly important to be able to take decisions based on little information and without knowing how things are going to turn out. In an uncertain world, this will stop us getting stuck.

One way to acquire this skill is by learning from people we admire.

And to do that we need to take three steps.

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Step One: Identify People You Admire

Choose one to three people you have never met but whom you admire greatly: role models who have taught you something important even though you never met them. They might be people from history or they might still be alive.

For each person write down or (better still) discuss with a friend, colleague, or partner:

  1. Who is the person?
  2. What are the values you admire in them?
  3. What flaws or weaknesses do they have or did they have?
  4. What, despite those flaws, have they achieved that you admire them for?

If you discuss this with someone you trust they will be able to help you draw out and uncover a deeper understanding of what matters most to you by asking open questions** such as “Why?” “What do you mean by that?” “Can you give me an example?”

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Step Two: Identify People Who Have Helped to Shape You

Now choose between one and three friends, mentors, leaders, or teachers who you have known in real life and who have taught you something along the way: something that has helped to make you the person you are today.

Again, either write down or discuss with a close friend or partner:

  1. Who is the person?
  2. What did he or she love that you loved them for loving?
  3. What were their flaws or weaknesses?
  4. What, despite those flaws, did they achieve that you admire them for?

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Step Three: Compare, Contrast, and Focus

Now compare your answers. What stands out as important for you?

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Your answers to these questions will show you four things.

First, what you admire most in others reveals what you value most in yourself: your values and what you love most. What you admire in others shows you the type of person you want to become. And knowing this more clearly can help you to find a way forward that inspires you to make it happen.

Second, what you think of as flaws and weaknesses in other people shows you what you want to avoid in yourself. And if you write down the opposites of those flaws and weakness then this again helps to reveal the type of person you want to become.

Third, comparing the accomplishments of the people you admire most will deepen your understanding of the kind of outcomes you most want to create. 

And fourth, perhaps most important of all, your answers to these questions will show you that even the people you most admire are not perfect. They have flaws. But they still achieved outcomes that you think are important. And if they can do it, so can youYou don’t need to wait to be perfect before you start working to create the results that matter most to you. You just need to be clearer about what those things are — and then inspire yourself to begin.

Knowing more clearly who you most admire, and why, will improve your ability to take decisions when you have little information and don’t know how things are going to turn out. And this is yet another step towards becoming antifragile.

Who are the people you admire most? Why? Who could you talk about that with?


** Open questions are questions that don’t limit or define the range of possible answers. Closed questions limit the possible responses. For example, “Was it red or green?” is a closed question. “What colour was it?” is a partly-open question. “Did it have a particular colour?” is a truly open question.


Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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(And remember: you can’t learn to swim just by reading about swimming, you also need to do the practice.)


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