Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Learn from the Worst

It is wonderful to have great role models at every stage of your life. Think of perfection:

  • Supportive, doting parents
  • Engaging challenging, yet loving teachers
  • Helpful, constructive troop leaders, religious fellows and other professionals
  • Mentoring, coaching, sponsoring bosses.

Yes, all of these things would make for a marvelous life and provide positive examples at all phases of your development.  However, we cannot pick most of these people as they move through our lives.  And the ones we do get may not exhibit the behaviors of story books—think Cinderella or Harry Potter.

Did Cinderella emulate the wicked step mother or step sisters?  Did Harry think that he had to behave like a Dursley  (his non-magical aunt & uncle) to succeed in life?

The Best of the Worst

Sometimes our best instructors exhibit the worst behaviors.  They show us what not to do.

I often refer to my model as the “because of / in spite of model”. There were things I did as a parent which emulated my own parents as they were behaviors that I thought had provided a positive   influence on my life.  There were also things my own parents did which I swore I would never do as a parent. My record is not entirely clean on this one, but I tried to be conscious of both positive and negative role models.

This model works well in the business world.  I had a few bosses who exhibited behaviors which I found inspirational and brought out the best in me and in teams.  But I had many bosses who were less than excellent role models and I had a couple who were just plain awful human beings.  When I worked for these men, I considered that part of my role was to insulate my direct reports from the moods and bad direction I was receiving.  When I was not working for them any longer, I made sure that I used them as mirror images of the type of leader I wanted to be.  Occasionally, I found words coming out of my mouth that were more like my negative models than I would have liked.  When I caught myself I would apologize and then mentally swear not to do this again.

Remember you can learn as much from negative influences as the positive ones.  The important thing for me was not to blindly follow others’ behaviors.  Rather, it was important to analyze people all around me to find positive role models and my right path.

Christine Jacobs is an experienced corporate executive and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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