Real-life role model examples include Roger Federer, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, and LeBron James. Common role models in daily life include parents, teachers, coaches, and a great boss.
A role model is a person whose character is worth emulating or imitating. They inspire others to be their best self.
Role models often share identity characteristics with the person who looks up with them. For example, many Black teenagers will look up to influential Black leaders like LeBron James.
Youths often also look up to sports stars and form parasocial relationships with them. Sometimes, those sportspeople end up realizing they’re role models – whether they like it or not!
Below are some real-life examples of role models who have tended to be upstanding and successful citizens.
Role Models for Boys
- Lebron James – Famous African-American basketballer.
- MrBeast – Famous American YouTuber.
- Barack Obama – First Black president of the United States.
- Neil Armstrong – First man to walk on the moon.
- Jackie Chan – Famous martial artist and actor from Hong Kong.
- Mark Rober – Famous American former NASA Engineer and YouTuber (ask your kids).
- Kobe Bryant – Famous African-American basketballer.
- Rafael Nadal – Famous Spanish tennis player.
- David Attenborough – Famous British environmentalist.
- Bear Grylls – Famous British explorer and environmentalist.
- Trevor Noah – Famous South African comedian.
- Kevin Durant – Famous African-American basketballer.
- Lionel Messi – Famous Argentinian football player.
- Stephen Hawking – Famous scientist and disabled role model (deceased).
- Cristiano Ronaldo – Famous Portuguese footballer.
- Timothy Berners-Lee – Inventor of the internet.
- Bruce Springsteen – Famous working-class rock and roll star.
- Dave Grohl – Famous American grunge rock star.
- Nelson Mandella – Famous South African human rights activist.
- Mo Farah – Famous British-Muslim runner.
- Harry Styles – Famous British rock star.
Role Models for Girls
- Oprah Winfrey – Influential African-American former talkshow host.
- Angela Merkel – Former chancellor of Germany.
- Malala Yousifazi – Pakastani human rights activist.
- Serena Williams – African-American former tennis player.
- Emma Watson – British actress best known for her role as Hermione in Harry Potter.
- Marie Curie – Famous female scientist.
- Jane Goodall – Anthropologist and animal rights activist.
- Taylor Swift – Singer.
- Ruth Bader Ginsberg – Former supreme court justice who broke many glass ceilings.
- Adele – Singer.
- Miley Cyrus – Singer.
- Katy Perry – Singer.
- Ariana Grande – Singer.
- Melinda Gates – Philanthropost and activist.
- Amelia Earhart – Famous explorer.
- Maria Ressa – Philippino journalist and free speech activist.
- Beyonce – African-American singer.
- Dolly Parton – Country musician.
- Emma Chamberlain – Famous YouTuber and blogger.
- Greta Thunberg – Environmental activist who inspired youths around the world.
- Rosa Parks – Civil rights activist.
Everyday Role Model Examples
- Coaches – Often, a person’s coach is their greatest role model because he or she pushes them to be great at a sport.
- Teachers – Many students spend their days with their teachers who end up becoming motivational idols to the student.
- Sportspeople – Adolescents admire their sports stars like basketballers and footballers.
- Entrepreneurs – As people get older, they will often admire successful businesspeople like Elon Musk.
- Minority Celebrities – The historical underrepresentation of people of color in media makes emerging minority role models very important to kids of color who seek successful people who look like them.
- Politicians – Much maligned by many, but people interested in politics find role models in people who fight the good fight.
- Motivational Speakers – Famous motivational speakers like Tony Robins are looked up to by men and women alike.
- Religious Mentors – Priests, pastors, rabbis, clerics, monks, and nuns could be moral role models for religious people.
- Environmentalists – Budding environmentalists might look up to climate change activists or great anthropologists like Jane Goodall.
- Parents – Parents are a child’s first role model and mentor.
- YouTubers – Today, many kids spend their days watching YouTube and looking up to famous YouTube stars like Mark Rober.
- Scientists – Young kids who love science will often look up to famous scientists like Einstein or Newton.
- Bosses – When you start your first job, you might look up to your boss or a senior coworker.
- Disabled Celebrities – People with disabilities have historically been marginalized. Famous disabled people are important role models to society to demonstrate that anyone can do anything!
- Human Righs Activists – Many young people who want to change the world look up to famous human rights activists like Greta Thunberg.
- Siblings – Children often look up to their big brothers and sisters.
- Actors – Actors on the big screen are often heroes to children who want to be action heroes.
- Inventors – Children with big dreams might look up to inventors of cool products and tools.
Role Model Characteristics and Traits
1. They’re professional
A professional person maintains their high moral standards and values throughout their job. They will have strong work ethic and good communication skills in the workplace. They’re often considered role models because their professionalism is something that is respected and looked up to.
For example, someone who always arrives at meetings early or someone who gets the job done could be considered to be highly professional. These are people who help the company move forward, as opposed to people who are just coasting around and not doing anything meaningful or impactful.
Often, a highly professional leader who is effective at their job will be a role model to interns and new members of the team in the workplace.
2. They’re mature and upstanding
Adults tend to promote positive role models for children to try to nudge them toward prosocial behaviors. So, they look to mature people with very little controversy.
For example, Tiger Woods used to regularly rank in role model lists until his various affairs led to his moral downfall. After that, he was not nearly as widely pushed as someone to look up to.
This doesn’t mean that young people don’t admire bad role models – they often admire rappers who promote a destructive way of life – but, in general, when trying to brainstorm a good role model, we look toward someone who is above the fray and always takes the high road.
3. They’re disciplined
When we look to motivational people who we can admire and try to emulate, we often try to figure out the ‘secret sauce’ that made them successful. Often, the answer lies in their discipline.
For example, you can see many videos on YouTube about the “morning routine of millionaires” where people try to unpick how millionares reach success. The videos will promote things like “discipline”, “morning meditation”, a “journalling routine”, and similar signs of success.
Similarly, when young men look up to famous sports stars and bodybuilders, a repeated theme emerges: you need self-discipline to succeed in life.
4. They have self-confidence
A common characteristic of a role model is confidence. Usually, people will look up to someone who is oozing with self-esteem. After all, we want to be as confident of them!
For example, one reason people look up to sports stars is because they’re full of confidence. They are the best at what they do, and they know it.
If you appear to be doubtful of what you can do, then people will also naturally doubt your capacity to lead—they are not likely to emulate you.
Even in everyday life, when we see someone who walks with confidence, we’ll often admire them or be drawn to their aura.
5. They are unique
Often, people look up to people with individualism and a unique style. Their ability to ‘get away with’ being different is something we admire, especially if we lack that skill.
The most common example of this is found in music. People like Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, and Janis Joplin were all unique in their own right. They had their own style and didn’t conform to the social norms.
Sometimes, these unique people spark trends and subcultural fashions – for example, Beyonce’s fashion style is closely watched and reported on because she’s so influential.
Role models are vital in society. Young people need someone to look up to and try to emulate. At a time of life when you’re vulnerable to the influence of negative or destructive people, a good role model can keep them on track.
As we get older, our role models often change. In university, it was my professor who was a human rights activist. Now, it’s businesspeople who create great websites. As I develop in my life, so too will my role models – and you’re never too old or too successful to have someone to look up to!
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.