Last night I presented a program at Hawk Hall on Leadership. I posed a variety of broad questions to the small group of participants, such as “are leaders born or made,” and I was pleasantly surprised at where the discussion led. After about an hour of discussion, one of the most interesting questions that a participant posed back to the group was, “do celebrities and public figures have an obligation to act as positive role models just because they are in the spotlight and followed by the general public?” This is something that I have thought about and discussed with others on multiple other occasions, but I think it is worth continuing to contemplate.
At first thought, I suppose that celebrity status does not necessarily make a person a leader; however, an individual must realize that a possible unintended outcome of their fame is that they become role models and set examples for others. Children and teenagers, in specific, come to mind as those who most often look up to celebrities, such as actors, musicians, and athletes. But even I fall victim to living for the latest news from tabloids and paparazzi about Brangelina, Britney, & Sandra. Just because an individual is in a position of status or celebrity does not by nature make them a leader – it makes them an example setter. It is what the individual chooses to do with their fame, notoriety, or position that makes them either a leader, or just a bad role model.
In the book, “The Student Leadership Challenge,” (if you haven’t read it, then you should) authors Kouzes and Posner posit that “exemplary leaders are very mindful of the signals they send and how they send them.” I believe this is absolutely true, and is just one of many qualities that separate the leaders from the non-leaders. It can be both a blessing and a curse that, in a position of leadership, an individual is expected to uphold high standards and demonstrate the values which they espouse. The campus and student body hold these same expectations for student leaders at SMU. Whether they like it or not, a student leader must realize that the very nature of their position puts them in the spotlight for individuals in their organization or the campus in general. The challenge is for these students to realize how their everyday actions either uphold or contradict what they say they are about. What they do with their status is what makes or breaks their ability to be a leader.
So should someone in a position of status or fame act as positive role models? Yes. Does their position obligate them to do so? Maybe. Maybe not. However, these individuals should keep in mind what they are setting the example for many individuals, both young and old, in a society without a lot of clearly defined heroes.
SMU Service House Community Director &
Leadership and Community Involvement Coordinator