Role Models and Moral Exemplars

Business Ethics Quarterly 10 (3):675-696 (2000)
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Role modeling is widely thought to be a principal vehicle for acquiring the virtues. Yet, little is known about role modeling as a process. This paper surveys the behavioral sciences for insights about how one person can find the actions of another person so inspirational that the person attempts to reproduce the behavior in question. In general, such inspiration occurs when an observer sees a model similar to herself, wrestling with a problem she is having, such that the model’s accomplishments are seen as attainable. When the behavior modeled is moral, additional complications arise, not the least of which is the contemporary skepticism about anyone held up as a hero. The paper concludes with some suggestions about how organizations can facilitate the development of the virtues through role modeling.



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