We are just human after all
Listen: We are men. not gods[audio:http://welchwrite.com/career/audio/2009/career-op-20090123.mp3]
By the time you read this, or hear this podcast, Barack Obama will have started his tenure as the President of the United States. While I have great expectations for this presidency, as I do whenever anyone takes on the job, I also remind myself daily that presidents are men (and hopefully soon, women) not some god-like, mythological figures. As people, we can only do the best that we can do. We are flawed and apt to fail. Still, just like the President, our job is to do the best we can with what we are given and ignore those that expect us to be perfect, either in our lives or in our careers.
While we may never be tasked with being the leader of a large country, we each have our own leadership challenges. We also have people who will expect too much from us. They expect us to almost magically repair years of damage overnight, boost profits and make your company or department the world leader. While these people need leadership, their overblown expectations make it even harder for us to succeed. While it is great to dream, dreams take a long time to come to fruition. Often, these same people become quickly disenchanted. They don’t have the patience and understanding of how long and difficult change can be. These fervent supporters and cheerleaders for your work can suddenly become your most vociferous critics.
So how do you cope with overblown expectations? First, you educate. You make it very clear what actions you are going to attempt and also clearly illustrate what success and failure look like. You also explain that failure is not something to be avoided, but something that educates us and clarifies future direction. It is your job to ground great expectations in some sense of reality. You will have far-reaching goals, but you also need concrete steps on the path to these goals.
Great leaders also understand that a major part of their task is communication. People, when denied information, naturally start to assume the worst. To put it in almost universal terms, when a new boyfriend or girlfriend fails to call in a timely manner, we don’t think about how they might be busy or their phone has died or they are in a meeting. Lacking other information, we assume they hate us and never want to see us again. Great leaders will find ways of communicating the good and the bad news whenever necessary to prevent imaginations from running off to doom and gloom scenarios. Hiding failures and setbacks is often the quickest road to overall failure, as people will add personal distrust of you to their worries.
In any new endeavor, establish yourself as a human being, flaws and all, rather than trying to assume the position of a god. Even more important, don’t let others put you on too high a pedestal; otherwise these same people could be the first to pull you down. Regardless of your skills, intelligence and charisma, you are still just a human being like everyone else. Forgetting this humanity can be one of the biggest failures of any career.
As we watch this new president settle into the job, we would do well to look at our own jobs and careers and our own style of leadership. What can we learn from President Obama, both from his successes and failures? It is often said that the theater stage teaches great lessons by giving us a view of loftier heights – the workings of kings and gods. What can you learn from the presidential stage that helps you build the career you deserve?
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