once upon a time this is who i am.

by smb on October 16, 2008

I watched the US Presidential debates tonight.  No, I’m not going to comment on who I am voting for, or who I think won.  You can watch them for yourself and decide.

Now that I am in my post-debate stupor, it is impossible to deny how important narrative identity has become in this election.  Not only have the candidates worked exceptionally hard to create a story of their lives that can be easily consumed by the public, but they have strained to populate those stories with the symbols, signifiers and artifacts of cultural meaning.  A new element of the debate tonight was Joe the plumber,  a real person who became yet another narrative prop that each man tried to mold into the story of their candidacy – and their vision for the future.

For each candidate, friends watched with both fear and hope that they would break out of their public constructs to be the people that the electorate secretly suspect they are off camera.  Each witty retort, misstep, gesture and answer was scrutinized to determine if we were seeing flashes of the real men underneath the media gloss and public performance.  Each was working to perpetuate an impression of their leadership and trying to change adversarial narratives that have questioned their qualifications, knowledge, skills, temperament and judgment.

Every leader creates, and is hampered by, the story of our leadership.  The iconoclast who has rethought the game has to meet the challenges of ever rising expectations.  The insider who is seen as the heir to an intellectual legacy is also expected to tow the party line.  The entertainer who has made a career of perfection and innovation is only boring when the record skips.

Our leadership narratives have helped get us to where we are, but at some point the traits that paved the way to now cease to be as effective as they once were. It is in those moments that the greatest leaders grow and reinvent themselves. They consciously, intentionally and carefully rebuild the narrative of their leadership to tell an entirely different story.  Is it a lie? Maybe.  Is it part of a developmental trajectory?  Possibly.  Does it work? Absolutely.


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is game theory the right theory? at impossibilities
November 18, 2008 at 1:47 am

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