This Guest paper series was originally published by the Cutter Consortium Agile Product & Project Management Advisory Service in 2009. It is reproduced here, September 2014, with permission from the publishers (

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Part 4 published here December 2014.

PART 3 | Indirect Paths to Learning | Role Models
Having Capable People is Simply Not Enough | Leadership | Coaching

Role Models

Beyond the physical examples that contributed to the success of the training program, to some participants (primarily the junior staff), the senior developer who ran the program became a role model as well.

Role models can be one of the most powerful social learning tools an organization can have. Many individuals who attain the highest levels of achievement in their field credit role models as having inspired them. Coaches training young sports teams leverage that affect by using instructional videos created by leading professionals. The videos provide examples of how to do things right and provide role models toward which the younger players can aspire.

Not only do role models provide learners with a frame of reference, they also provide a benchmark against which expectations can be set. This is true for both the performance expectations set by the organization's management team as well as the expectations we set of our-selves. When a person aspires to a role model, the role model provides a benchmark against which that person judges his or her own proficiency.

Because role models typically have higher performance, the level at which we deem ourselves to have attained proficiency often gets set at a higher level than it would in the absence of the role model. By setting the bar at a higher level, the door to the beginner's mind is left open for a longer period of time. That additional time and the presence of the role model provides the context within which higher-order thinking skills are better able to take hold.

Indirect Paths to Learning  Indirect Paths to Learning

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