Trucks and women don’t normally go together. Japanese owned Isuzu Motors makes world-renowned trucks; its Japanese executives did not expect to meet a woman when the new CEO stepped off the plane in Tokyo, 1996. Such was the confusion of her Japanese hosts, that to celebrate the company’s latest deal they took the very feminine Nikki King to a transgender nightclub.
This week we celebrated International Women’s Day and I was lucky enough to attend London Business School’s student-run annual Women in Business Conference. You know what? I left feeling inspired. It makes me think: where does the inherent need to be inspired come from? And what do we look for in those who inspire us?
For me, Nikki King, keynote speaker and chairwoman of Isuzu truck firm inspires. I can pinpoint two reasons I admire her: she’s successful in a male orientated industry and she’s funny as hell. If you need more reasons than that: during her keynote speech she swore – for the good of her story. As I interviewed her, she made no apology about eating a biscuit as we spoke, candidly I might add. She has mentored a company called ‘Women with Waders’ – enough said about that, I think. She answered my opening interview question “what car do you drive?” with humorous acceptance, as I hoped she would. And most of all, she knows her stuff.
The science bit: mirror neurons
So, I’m inspired and I have a new role model in Nikki. But why do I need to be inspired? In modern neuroscience the discovery of mirror neurons is a big deal. They are cells that fire during both the observation and execution of an action or behaviour. It’s worth saying now: the research is still to be understood fully. Nevertheless they have been linked to behaviours and abilities, from empathy to learning by imitation. In other words, we all scientifically need role models to learn from.
The idea of role modelling, as a way of learning how to behave and think optimally, could be the key to how we learn a new skill quickly, and perhaps, succeed. We don’t just learn knowledge, and understanding, but we absorb the attitude of the person we learn from. Their enthusiasm for a subject can spark a new passion in us that we didn’t ever have before. For me it’s ‘Women with Waders’.
A charismatic force
One of my many reasons for admiring Nikki is her charisma and her ability to make an entire room of 200-plus women laugh. Raina Brands, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School recently answered the question: what is a charismatic leader?
“A charismatic leader is really someone who is very transformational. So it encapsulates a lot of different things but it is somebody who can really set a vision for the organisation and inspire people just through sheer force of their personal charisma.”
Interestingly Brands goes on to explain that being charismatic is in the eye of the beholder. So, we are all inspired by different people. Which makes sense – I’m sure mentoring ‘Women with Waders’ and driving trucks won’t do it for everyone.
“Some people will feel charisma and some people will see you as very charismatic, but some people won’t be affected by you at all.”
Scientifically-speaking we need role-models. Remember, our nerve cells work by copying what we see and our motor neurons replicate that behaviour. The good news is that there are role models ‘out there’ for all of us, plenty enough to go around. There are also plenty of anti-role models, typically in the public eye, for us to choose from. I’m interested, who inspires you?
Picture citation: Benjamin Lehman, Woman’s Work, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0