Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Learn From Good Role Models; Learn More From Bad!

Throughout our careers we all have been exposed to a wide variety of people who have had both positive and negative influences on us, and knowingly or not, have served as good and bad role models for us. Most people feel that they can learn more from the good role models, and indeed the good role models set up behaviors to emulate, to learn from, and to pass on to others. However, it is my view that we actually learn more from the bad role models, for their misbehaviors hit us harder, and in a more visceral fashion that makes longer-lasting impressions.  The bad role models educate us in what we don’t want to be, and that can be extremely valuable if we recognize what we can really learn.


By no means do I want to minimize the valuable lessons that can be learned from good role models.  Good role models can teach you how to treat others, the value of integrity, how sound decisions are made, and much more (see Show True Professionalism). These good role model lessons should be taken to heart and put into your “behavior memory”. They should also be passed on so that others can learn these good role model lessons as well.


What are some examples of good role models?
  • Someone who gives credit where credit is due, generally to others rather than himself or herself.
  • Someone who praises good performance loudly in public, but discusses poor performance quietly in private.
  • Someone who doesn’t spread negative rumors or say negative things about others, particularly behind their backs.
  • Someone who gives everyone a chance to make their viewpoints known, and respects all views, even if he/she disagrees with those views.
  • Someone who explains the rationale behind his/her decisions, so others can buy in, even if they disagree.
  • Someone who concentrates on facts and logical decision making, not emotional outbursts (see Pound the Facts, Not the Table).
  • Someone who treats others the way he/she would like them to treat him/her (the Golden Rule).

We can all think of many more characteristics of good role models. Good role models most definitely have a positive influence on others around them, but often their lessons don’t provide the “fist in the gut” impact that bad role models do. Good role model lessons are meaningful, but after some time passes, the impact of those lessons may dwindle as new pressures and priorities arise. You want to keep those good lessons in mind, but they may not be the most important things to you right now.


The case for bad role model lessons is quite different. We have all run into bad role models. Sometimes they are simply jerks that you come across but don’t really have to deal with or work with. At other times, however, they are people in positions of authority or influence that simply can’t be avoided. While very hard to recognize at the moment of occurrence, the lessons you can learn from such people are often greater than those you learn from good role models. They teach you in deeply memory impacting ways what you don’t want to do or become.


What are some examples of bad role models?
  • Someone who takes credit for other people’s work, to both inflate their own value and deflate the value of others (see Stolen Credit - It's Not Just About Credit Cards!).
  • Someone who belittles or yells at people in front of others, particularly when they do so specifically to make a “statement” (see The Tearer (Terror?)-Downer).
  • Someone who complains about people to others (particularly their managers) behind their backs (see The Complainer/Whiner).
  • Someone who refuses to let others speak or present their opinions, and puts others down when they do speak out.
  • Someone who makes arbitrary and often purely emotional decisions with no explanation or rationale.
  • Someone who commits you to something they know can’t be or won’t be done. 
  • Someone who’s idea of the Golden Rule is, “He who has the gold, makes the rules”.


As with good role models, we can all think of many more characteristics of bad role models. Where the lessons learned from good role models may dwindle with time, that is most definitely not the case for bad role model lessons. Shortly after a nasty encounter with a bad role model, after saying to yourself, “Boy, is that guy a flaming a$$hole”, you realize profoundly that his is a behavior that you will go out of your way to avoid like the plague. It has an impact that lasts a long, long time – often forever. 


So when you encounter a bad role model, and the incident that prompted that encounter has ended, don’t get angry and don’t despair. Don’t get mad, and don’t get even. Instead, welcome and cherish the lesson learned, and make a permanent note to yourself that under no circumstances, whatsoever, will you ever behave the way that a$$hole did. You will be a better person for it, and you can become a good role model to others.  You may even want to thank him for being such an a$$hole. ... Nyaah! Probably not!

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