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The very mention of leadership induces deep feelings of disappointment in me. It seems to dredge up failings rather than successes; ones I’ve witnessed as well as all the other’s I created all by myself, Lucy-holding-the-football scenarios I already know will turn out poorly. Mount the stage, fall on my face.

Some of the leadership gurus explain that continuous improvement looks exactly like this, serial faceplants, slightly different every time. Maybe the same tune, but with key changes in between. Whatever, leadership slips beyond risky into certainty. Set ‘em up. knock ‘em down.

This sounds pessimistic, I know. Perhaps the energy fueling so much of the conversation around and about leadership stems from this shared sense that we haven’t found the key to success yet, so we keep pitching. Leadership, whatever it might be, seems tenaciously context sensitive. What seemed to work on Tuesday, won’t scratch even the mildest itch by Wednesday. What reliably works for me, won’t engage for you.

Hope tries to spring eternally, but struggles to get out of bed some mornings. The newspaper’s full of leadershit, partisan slams usually centered around how the opposition failed to achieve what they’d promised, as if delivery of ambiguous objectives despite endless unforeseen intrusions validates the true leader. If The President had been a leader worth his salt, we would have avoided the inevitable. Of course, The President plays along, making promises everyone knows nobody could deliver. We expect at least that much of our leaders. The minority shows no better, puffing up and displaying feathers that never could and never will actually fly.

Some days, though, things seem different. Some vote surprisingly tips to the side of righteousness, and it’s Spring again. By the weekend, some apparent bonehead stumble will invalidate the latest hopefulness. What is it that encourages us to engage in this roller coaster ride? Perhaps false hope trumps no hope at all.

But does leadership distill into hope liquor, which we feel compelled to drink to excess and suffer the hangover from the following morning? Maybe, feeling powerless myself, I project power onto those seemingly better-positioned to succeed in leveraging it, even though they mostly don’t.

I’m disappointed. I disappoint myself. Do I need a magic wand-wielding superhero to preserve my bacon? Physicists conclude that physical systems naturally tend toward entropy, not that they erode in the absence of effective leadership. Their strategy seems more focused upon accepting the universe as it is, as it apparently always has been, not on betting on some precedent-setting long shot.

I will continue to be blinded by the stars in my eyes, and fooled by the fairy tales I mumble, mantra-like, to myself. I’m no cynic and also nobody’s cockeyed optimist. I am just a man struggling to make sense. My sense-making might not be well served by serially setting myself up for disappointment.

I’m holding my leadership imperative at arm’s length and squinting to see my own imagine reflected there. What superhuman expectations am I imparting? What hopes and dreams have I stiff-armed personal responsibility for? My innocent expectations can hold the promise of perennial disappointment.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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