Grassroots beats global renown when it comes to mentors - Emma Newlands comment

When compiling questions for business-leaders, I find one way to get some insight into their character is to ask them who they admire in business, and the answers have proved very varied.

Elon Musk has been cited more than once, in each case by men, one of whom said the Tesla boss has “in the present day… made a bigger contribution to the world than anyone else I can think of in business”.

Philanthropy scores highly with many, and rightly so, with one leader deeming Bill Gates’ generosity a “lesson to all high-net-worth individuals/billionaires”.

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Scottish names praised for their good work include Tunnock’s boss Sir Boyd Tunnock, while one interviewee extended their admiration to any leader who benefits their local community. Lesley Landels of Love Scottish says her role models have made achievements “in areas I strive to be better at”.

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Those who have turned their business idea into reality have also been given a nod, while women often cite other female leaders for breaking down barriers.

Jackie Brierton of Growbiz singled out Anita Roddick, describing the late founder of The Body Shop as “a pioneering and brave female entrepreneur”, but she also selected several other sources of inspiration, and I agree with this multi-pronged approach.

Many bosses cited a mentor who has helped them manage challenges, or a family member who ran their own business, for example.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, is inspirational for many, but others choose lower-key sources of motivation. Picture: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images.

Leadership coach Jenn Fenwick says: “In my experience, people tend to look more to every day role models than ‘celebrities’. The authentic and ‘real’ people inspiring things, pushing the boundaries, overcoming adversity, showing up and behaving in a way that motivates us to be more, act more, do more.

“My role models are leaders who were open and vulnerable... And my mum, who has experienced incredible challenges... yet always finds the joy in everything.”

Daniel Smith of AstroAgency tells me that as a mentor for two space groups, including one to encourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds into space, he tries to be an accessible advisor (adding that he would never describe himself as a role model), “and it’s probably due to my role models being inaccessible due to fame”.

All in all, I reckon grassroots help is just as crucial, often even more so, in helping those that come after them reach new heights.

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