This evening I attended an invitation only meeting in the Locarno Suite at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a informal speech, exhorting me (and 99 other people) to be role models for the black community here in the UK.
The event was the launch of this years 2008 Power List, a compilation of the individuals that the organisers consider to be the 100 most powerful black people in the UK today (50 men, 50 women). By powerful, the organisers actually mean most influential and they are careful to point out that they don't mean richest (that's certainly true!) or celebrity (very few musicians & sports people are on this list). They searched for individuals who are having an influence on their industry and wider and they decided to stick me on the list (that's my smug-looking face stuck behind Lewis Hamilton in the picture).
It was a grand evening at the FCO with. a hundred or more very accomplished individuals, and I think most of us were looking around nervously thinking "what am I doing here with these REALLY powerful people, when will they spot me and turf me out?". Baroness Amos, who chaired the selection committee, spoke first, followed by the Prime Minister. Brown spoke informally and humourously without notes and was well received.
Then a delightful lady, Baroness Scotland, who was listed as Number One on the Ladies list gave a very personal, warm view on what this meant to her. She was followed by the daughter of Mo Ibrahim, the telecoms billionaire, representing her father who was Number One on the mens list.
A reprentative of Thompson Reuters, who sponsored the evening, said a few words before Michael Eboda, the chap who compiled the list with his team, stood up to cheers and rounded off the evening with a host of thank yous. Michael was actually one of the most influential people in the room, given his ability to sit at the nexus of such a powerful network of individuals, and clearly should be at the top of his own list, if modesty didn't stand in his way. Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned dictatorship? Does Michael think that Kim Jong-Il would have left himself off his own power list? No way!
One speaker asked how many people in the room were happy to be seen as "role models" to the younger generation. Surprisingly, in the entire room of perhaps 150 people, only about 3 hands went up. I thought that was interesting but understandable. It is quite pressurised being looked up to as a role model. You feel additional pressure to suceed, to behave "like a role model" to "be inspirational" at the drop of a hat. So, most folks avoid being a role model and just get on with the daily grind of doing what we do. It can even make you more risk adverse. You don't want to fail and let everyone down, so you start to play it safe.
But do you have an obligation to be a role model to a wider community who look up to you, even when you haven't asked them to? It's a tough question and I think ultimately it has to be a purely personal decision.
Personally, I don't mind too much. If it helps young people to look at what I've done and say to themselves "well, if that half-wit can do it then I certainly can" that's fine with me. Anyway I can rely on my family to keep my feet on the ground. I told my son this evening that I had appeared on this list and he said "why are you on there, Daddy, you're just an average sort of man and you're only my Dad".
So long as everyone understands that in reality I am just an average sort of man who will continue to play my own game full on, contine to be a risk-taker and may suceed and justify my presence on the list or may fail and crash ignominously out of next years 2009 list, then its all good. It's all in the game.