The top five qualities of a true role model for our young people

The top five qualities of a true role model for our young people By Sello Helepi


June is always recognized as a Youth Month where we emphasize the important role that the youth play in our society. However, when one looks around today we see ever increasing challenges faced by the youth of today. A lot has been written and said about these challenges, but not much about solutions. As we celebrate yet another youth month, I want to propose what should our young people look for in a true role model to save ourselves the disaster of a lost generation.


Many of our leaders today, who we expect to guide our youth, are often caught with their hands in the cookie jar, pants down and are found wanting in the area of setting a good example to our young people. Where should we look for lasting solutions? Do we have true role models for our youth? Do the youth know how to identify a true role model for themselves? Are we giving up too easily on our youth? These are questions that beg answers from society.


Often times what young people call role models today are criticised by society as not modeling the roles we wish our young people to aspire to. For example, does having lots of money or being notoriously famous make one a true role model? Becoming an HVI (i.e. Highly Visible Individual) does not necessarily qualify one to be a role model. Or does it? Let us look at what true role models should look like and what they do.


“True role models are those who possess the qualities that we would like to have and those who have affected us in a way that makes us want to be better people. To advocate for ourselves and our goals and take leadership on the issues that we believe in. We often don’t recognize our true role models until we have noticed our own personal growth and progress.” We recognise true role models by the impeccable qualities they posses which we would want to emulate in achieving our own personal growth, success and progress.


In a study I came across some time ago which was conducted among young people they interestingly identified the top five qualities a role model should have which I would like to share with you here. I have validated these study findings many times over in my discussions with young people which is what I do regularly. Please use them as a reflection on yourself as a possible role model to our youth or if you are a young person as an indicator of what qualities you should look for in a true role model for yourself.


These are not by any means exhaustive, but they give us a clue of what our young people today consider to be the top five qualities they want to see in a true role model. These top five qualities are evidenced daily and woven through thousands of stories and life experiences that should help our young people form a vision for their own futures.


1. Passion and ability to inspire


This was identified by far as the greatest attribute a true role model must have for the young people polled in the study I referred to earlier. Young people value passion in their role models and are inspired by it. True role models show great passion for their work and have the ability to infect others with their passion. Their passion is simply contagious. It rubs off easily to others and inspires them to work even harder themselves.


2. Clear set of values


True role models live their values in the world that is full of phonies, corruption and compromise. Young people admire people who act in ways that support their beliefs despite the obvious pressures in the world to do otherwise. It helps them understand how their own values form part of who they are and how they might seek fulfilling roles as adults later in life. True role models stand for a set of beliefs. They understand clearly that, “if you do not stand for anything you will fall for everything.”


3. Commitment to community


True role models are other-focused as opposed to self-focused. They are usually active in their communities, they give their time freely (i.e. volunteerism) and use their gifts, talents and blessings to benefit other people. These people reach out to their neighbors in need, take their civic duties seriously, participate regularly in democratic elections and are active members of community organizations, churches, etc.


4. Selflessness and acceptance of others


This quality is related to the other quality mentioned earlier that role models show a commitment to their communities. Young people admire people for their selflessness and acceptance of others who are different from them. True role models embrace diversity and promote social harmony. They protect, defend and support the underdogs. They act out the quality of a Good Samaritan to those who are less privileged in society. they give others a break in life without expecting anything in return. They act on people’s needs without seeing social barriers. They are never afraid to get their hands dirty helping others out. They serve all with pride.


5. Ability to overcome obstacles


Young people admire people who show them that success is possible despite obstacles and setbacks in life. They admire people who have gone through suffering, pain, rejection, failure and still continued to rise from the dust. They are inspired by people who persevered through hardship. Young people detest anyone who has bribed his/her way out of hardships and went through life lying, cheating and stealing without facing and tackling their obstacles head-on. They value hard-work and sacrifice.


Young people develop the skills and abilities of initiative in their own lives when they learn to overcome obstacles.


Many other studies continue to show a correlation between role models and higher levels of civic engagement in young people.


Young people develop as the result of many experiences and relationships they go through in life. Role models play an important role in inspiring them to learn, overcome obstacles, and understand that positive values can be lived each day. Whether you are a parent, older sibling, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, leader, pastor, politician, HVI or a person who just happens into a young person’s life, you have the ability to inspire!