Embrace Your Anti-Heroes
Submitted for your consideration:
- An academically elitist high school algebra teacher who would openly berate and mock students who struggled to grasp a concept
- A college religion professor who droned monotonously yet who, when questioned, would mark down the papers of those who did not fall lock step in line with his thinking
- A new supervisor who took sadistic pleasure in the downfall of others, who went to great strides to make life unbearably miserable for subordinates
- A Chief Information Officer who frequently blew up like Vesuvius at the smallest of issues, sparking direct fear from his underlings
- A Consulting Sales Executive who exhaled negativity like it was carbon dioxide, quick to kill ideas and dreams as inconsequential, and who would sabotage consultants perceived as "threatening"
These are some of my anti-heroes. We all know heroes. They're the ones we look up to, the ones we embrace, the ones we admire and emulate. But we all have anti-heroes, too. However, we tend to run from them, avoid them, ignore them, and dismiss them.
But should we?
As I grow older, I find comfort in thinking about my anti-heroes. They no longer hold power over me as they did when I was in direct contact with them, but their influence on my life is still very strong today. I remember the way their actions and words made me feel. I remember the stings and barbs and the acute pain caused by them. And these things make me a better person, because I know how NOT to act.
In leadership, we elevate a lot of heroes. We herald strong leadership. We boast of result-warriors. And we write books and case studies about bad leaders in hopes that we never meet them. Come on, people! We've all experienced an anti-hero (or two or three or dozens). And if we want to be the best, then we can no longer afford to ignore the worst.
I know what I need to do to be successful in my career, in my field, and in my life. But as I keep my eye on the prize, I also want to make sure I observe the polar opposites of success, the antithesis of what I want to become as a teacher, a consultant, a writer, and a speaker. And my anti-heroes help me with this goal. Eventually, their actions have caught up with many of them, and they've experienced publicly embarrassing set-backs. A few have yet to collide with karma. But it'll happen. It invariablly does. But it's not my job to make it happen. My job is to model the positive behaviors important in my life while avoiding the behaviors of my anti-heroes.
I'm grateful to my anti-heroes. They've shaped me in many ways. I'm definitely a better person because of them. Who are your anti-heroes? Are they still controlling your life in bad ways? Or do you control your memories of them? What are you learning from them?
Embrace your anti-heroes... but not too tightly... you may cut off the oxygen to their brains.