Jul 062004

Negative Role Models

Old news by now, but John Kerry has selected John Edwards as his running mate for this fall’s presidential election. What I found particularly interesting was a line buried in one of the various news reports I read on the web this morning, which said that Kerry, still stinging from the fact that he heard the bad news that he was not to be Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 from the media and not from Gore himself, had kept this decision-making process deliberately private up until the very last moment to avoid making that same mistake and to spare the feelings of those he passed over for the job.

How many of us in business have learned things over the years from negative role models, as much as from positive role models? I actually wrote a comment in an upward review several years back that I learned a ton from observing my boss, but that much of what I was learning was what not to do!

I think negative role models can be an even more powerful influence on leaders than positive role models over time, although both are clearly important. My experience with this tracks this decision of Kerry’s pretty closely — in a particular instance where I apply something learned from a negative role model, I tend to overcompensate for what is usually, in hindsight, a smallish detail. At the end of the day, I feel much better about it myself, and although I generally think it makes a difference, sometimes that difference is lost on others in my organization who don’t have that same benchmark.

Anyway, I hope Gephardt, Vilsack, Richardson, and the other Democrats who were not selected by Kerry today feel good about the way the decision and communication went down — because I know how hard Kerry worked to make them feel good about it!