It’s a question I ask in every individual assessment I conduct. And you’d be surprised with the uniformity of answers. Almost everyone names a relative, most usually a parent (or both parents). In many ways, that’s so encouraging. In a society so wrapped up in blaming parents for children’s (even grown children’s) blunders, its heartwarming to hear so many adults instantly snatch their parents to the forefront when asked this question.
When pressed further about those lessons they learned from their parents, the typical answers include: Hard work, honesty, integrity, and treating others with respect.
Now, I also ask, “Conversely, who would you recall in your life as a negative role model?”
Answers here diverge somewhat. Some pick someone they knew who was involved with drugs or alcohol, or someone with whom there has been a fairly longstanding family feud. But more than half can come up with no one. Think about that….when asked about someone who stands out as someone “not to be,” most individuals cannot name a single person.
I’ve often wondered how I would answer these questions. Without a doubt, I’d be lying to say that two of the greatest role models in my life have been my parents. And yes, they taught me all the items listed above. And very possibly, they’ve taught me even more about those things since I’ve become an adult…who knows, perhaps I was just a slow learner!
But what about a negative role model? Who would I chose to fill that bill, if asked?
Honestly, I’d probably hold myself up as my own negative role model. Now, I’m not simply being hard on myself. In fact, I love where I am in life, the role I play in the lives of my kids, my friends, my siblings, and others. I think I’ve accomplished a heck of a lot of fantastic things, and I think I’ve gotten to where I am today without trampling on others (for the most part). But, who has taught me more about how “not to be” than anyone else? I have….and that’s JUST how I want it to be.
You see, I’m far from perfect. I make just as many mistakes as anyone, sometimes more. At times, my priorities are out of whack. Sometimes, my patience level is less than stellar, and others have borne the brunt of that. I’ve experienced failure of varying degrees, both personally and professionally over the past twenty plus years. But with each of these flaws and with each failure, I’ve tried to focus on what I could learn about me, others, and the circumstances that contributed to failures.
So, is there someone from my past that has shown me “how not to be?” Sure there is…it’s ME! I’ve frequently been my own best “negative role model” in life. I’m okay with that, though. It’s from acknowledging my flaws, mistakes, and contributions to outcomes that fall short of my own expectations, that I am best equipped to learn from those situations and not repeat them.
After all….leadership (of self or others) begins with self-awareness, as painful as that may at times be. In the end, it’s all about continuous development.