Positive and Negative Role Models

Posted in Personal Development at 10:52 am by Haider

Having a role model who represents the person we would like to be, whether in character, or appearance, or success, usually motivates us towards our goal. A role model represents our goal in human form, and by imitating what they did to get to where they are, we can usually experience some of the success that they have achieved. But what about the people we do not wish to be like? Should we ignore them, or can we make use of their example?

We are usually taught to avoid bad influences and concentrate on what we can learn from the good examples around us, or the great personalities from history. However, success depends on acting one way and not acting in other ways. Not all actions lead to the same results, and we need to know what paths lead to success, but also what paths lead to failure. Knowing how not to behave is extremely important. This is why we need to have negative role models.

Negative role models are the people that set a bad example. But rather than ignore them or simply criticise them, we should aim not to be like them. We should understand what they are doing wrong and make sure we don’t fall in a similar trap. I have many negative role models that I remember when faced with a situation where I can behave in the way that they would behave. I use their example not to pursue, but to acknowledge and avoid. My decision may not have been as clear if I did not have a negative role model that I didn’t want to be like.

Ask yourself these questions: Have you ever been hurt by what someone said or did to you? Have you seen others get hurt by what others have done or said? Have you unknowingly hurt others in the same way you have been hurt or seen someone else get hurt? Have you ever seen someone struggle with a problem, and saw yourself criticise their approach, only to realise that when you are faced with the same problem, you struggled in the same way that they did?

It is very likely that you have experienced all the above scenarios many times in your life. The solution isn’t simply to criticise what others do, but to make sure that you do not behave in the same way they do. Negative role models aren’t limited to a single area in life. You can have negative role models in how a business should be run, or how customers should be treated, or how one should study, or how friends should be treated, or how a marriage should be handled, or how life should be approached, etc, etc.

I am sure there are many negative influences around you. To prevent yourself from being negative in the same way, adopt them as negative role models. Make sure you are clear about who you do not want to be, and use the examples that you know to help you protect yourself from turning out just like them.


  1. Blue Dress said,

    February 26, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I think there are pathes to success that havent been crossed yet or discovered… as in some one has to be brave enough to create
    their own “self-role model” if there is such thing.

    ya3ni not follow anyone nor look up to anyone… but rather collect as many information as possible on how everything is moving then invent a new method.

    also a negative role model could be negative for you but positive for another.

  2. Haider said,

    February 26, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    I definitely agree with you on that one. Sometimes we doubt ourselves because no one else has achieved what we want, when we can be the first to achieve it. In the words of Ayn Rand, the philosopher:

    “Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.”

    As for a negative role model being a positive one. It really depends on the direction you want to go in. I may not see popularity as something important, whereas someone else might see that as their main goal. Our choice of positive and negative role models will be very different.

  3. Ralf Wilmes said,

    March 14, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Hi, there’s something in here which does not quite convince me. Let me try to explain. You might consider to change the terminology ‘negative role model’. A role model by definition is an example of the good, someone to take as an example.

    It might me my impression but I feel that there’s a risk here that might go like: as negative examples serve to teach us the path to failure, we need negative axamples, therefore negative examples are necessary.. therefore they are good.

    best regards, Ralf

    I mean: the reasoning risks to go towards ‘flattening out’ clear moral judgements about good and bad.

    Sure I agree on the fact that you can benefit from seeing other people’s mistakes thus avoiding to make them too. But still you need to be able to differentiate between good and bad in the first place.

    I would dare to state that you would however learn even more from living and working with succesful people, or (positive) role models, then observing failures.

  4. Haider said,

    March 15, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Dear Ralf,

    Although the term role model is often used to mean a positive example or inspiration, I have used the meaning of the term in its broader context. There is nothing in the term itself that indicates that the role model should be a positive one. What the term essentially means is having someone (a model) that represents a role for us.

    The common use of the term “role model” doesn’t even refer to good or moral examples, but the examples we choose, according to our own values. Therefore, Hitler can be a role model for any aspiring dictator, and Bin Laden can be a role model for terrorists.

    It is up to us to choose the role models that represent the qualities that are good, and lead to human happiness.

    What’s powerful about having a role model is that you have an example to look at, rather than have an ideal that you may struggle to visualise in the real world. Therefore, using this loose meaning of the term “role model” we can see that having a negative role model (i.e. someone who represents what we do *not* want to be like) can be a useful tool.

    Sometimes we don’t realise what kind of a person we’re becoming if we do not compare our actions to someone that we consider immoral, or whose behaviour clashes with our values. You might not like it when an “intellectual” talks down out you because he thinks he’s cleverer than you, but then you unknowingly talk to others in the way that you dislike! By having the intellectual’s example as a negative role model, you can watch out for falling in the trap of acting like him.

    I hope the term and use of “negative role model” makes sense now πŸ˜€

  5. Ralf Wilmes said,

    March 15, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Haider. You convinced me now and I agree.
    The term role model is morally neutral indeed. Thanks &Cheers, Ralf

  6. Haider said,

    March 15, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Exactly.. glad my explanation was helpful πŸ˜€

  7. Sarah said,

    November 29, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    This is really great stuff.
    I am doing a debate in class on the ngetive efffects of role-models
    and I am the opposing team.
    Thank You so much for your help.
    This idea is amazing. πŸ˜€

  8. Haider said,

    November 30, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m happy to know you found this idea useful.

    All the best with your debate class! πŸ˜€

  9. Madison!!! said,

    January 12, 2010 at 3:39 am

    Hey there! I’m doing a speech about why one should not have a role model and this gave me great information!! thanks

  10. Haider said,

    January 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    That’s great!

    Thanks for letting me know, and best of luck with your speech!

  11. SHO SHO SMITH, Writer & Editor » Keep friends close, but negative role models closer said,

    June 28, 2010 at 1:27 am

    […] control-freak boss, a naysaying best friend, a preachy parent – our negative role models are worth their weight in gold. They teach us who we don’t want to be – as much or more than […]

  12. ayah said,

    September 8, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    this is great but still i need more better information because at school we r doing debateing lol πŸ˜€

  13. Haider said,

    September 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Ayah, this post is very popular with students. πŸ˜›

    What’s the debate? And which side of the divide are you on?

    If you tell me what you already think about the topic, I can share some of my own thoughts! πŸ™‚

    (I’m a teacher, and I don’t like giving students answers. I like to *assist* them in finding and developing answers themselves)

  14. jainam shah said,

    February 24, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    u r having great thoughtes for role model…….
    “the man is owner of his own destiny”
    i want to edit in this philophy…….
    “then why should he believe in other’s destiny????”
    (i mean role model is nt required 4 d way of success)

  15. Haider said,

    February 24, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Jainam,

    While every individual should choose his or her own path in life, the examples other people set can be inspirational and educational.

    This doesn’t mean that we must walk in their footsteps, but to learn from their experiences.

    People with bad manners or who have failed in some areas in life can be an example for us on what we do not want to be like.

    They may not be necessary, but they make the journey to success easier.

  16. joey said,

    December 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm


  17. Haider said,

    December 10, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Sounds like a positive role model to me, Joey. πŸ˜›

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