Seems to me that if we’re going to lead well and follow well, we’ve got to come to terms with something deep and basic in human nature. And understanding this odd aspect of our humanity is especially critical when our environments are topsy-turvy, insecure, scarce or scary. Such an environment could be part of your world now: anything from a kid going through adolescence, a family grieving the loss or illness of a loved one, a city in crisis, a state in the midst of massive change, or even a globe at risk. You’ll see this aspect of human nature bubbling up in three current events.
Tiger roared back yesterday at the Masters. The media’s yapping after the Pope. And Congressman Bart Stupak has said he’s not running for re-election. Perhaps it’s my son’s fascination with Greek mythology that has me thinking these stories are all a bit like the tales of the Greek gods. We would never call these mere mortals gods, but we certainly put them on lofty pedestals. The Vatican, for instance is quite literally filled with busts of popes; and how appropriate that Nike – named after the Greek goddess of victory – stood by Tiger. We put these demigods up, and we knock them down. Indeed, the tea bag crew which claims to have downed Stupak – and the media members chanting for the Pope to account – seem to measure their power precisely in their ability to take their targets down.
So, that’s it. Every leader is mortal and imperfect. Yet we want SO much from them, and we grow so hurt, scared, angry, and crazed when they let us down. In our enlightened age, people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond, continue to wrestle with their disappointments about the mom or dad who let them down. Congregations lurch and spasm for years after a pastor has not fit their impossibly conflicted hopes and expectations. And we still can’t decide about that darned Thomas Jefferson – president, philosopher, scientist and slaveholder.
The main lesson for followers is this: get over the childish expectations that the boss, parent, teacher, mayor, CEO, or school superintendent is going to do everything your way. They’re fallible and so are you! The fundamental truth they experience is that there’s one of them and usually a whole lot of you’s; if they met your expectations, they’d be dashing someone else’s. I’m not saying, “tolerate everything,” but I am saying, examine your expectations of them with every bit as much passion as you examine their behaviors.
And the main lesson for us as everyday leaders: know you’ll fail them. Don’t scamper too quickly onto anyone’s pedestal, because it’s a lot harder coming down than getting up! Accept that your job often requires that you fail them (you can’t go on being parent or boss forever! They need to take over more and more.) Part of the work is helping them to keep from careening from infatuation to infuriation with their leaders, to instead focus on their own leadership. You’ve got to be frustrating them a little all the time, if they’re going to do the work they need to do.
A little less exalting, a little less faulting, to
Lead with your best self.