Oh, the disappointment.
Lance Armstrong, champion of champions, exposed as a liar and a cheat.
Beyonce, pop-star Goddess, lip-syncing the anthem at our nation’s most prestigious live event.
It’s an old story in current headlines: How our leaders, heroes and celebrities fail us and fall from grace.
These exalted beings touch something deep within us. When the athlete defies the odds and strides into victory, when the singer’s notes pierce the very corners of our soul, we naturally want to give back. We reel in awe at the fulfillment of human potential. We pour our hearts into adoration. We idolize. We worship. We purchase their merchandise.
Sometimes we feel this way with the lesser idols that live and lurk among us: Parents, teachers, and thought leaders come to mind. They touch us with their words and presence. They stir the pot and impact our lives directly.
And when our heroes fall from grace, do we fall with them? Do we cast them out in a reaction of betrayal? Do our hearts break, and for whom? Do we simply move on to the next person to give our love and power to? How do you recover from the disappointment?
It takes strength.
The woman who taught me how to lead workshops was a force. Her unwavering, unapologetic authority in the room, the openings she facilitated, the changes she inspired, were masterful. I began to apprentice with her.
I faithfully practiced the skills she taught. I followed her very restricted diet. I refrained from alcohol, caffeine and other drugs before workshop weekends. I wanted to live the lifestyle she modeled. Or the one I thought she was modeling.
Because something wasn’t right. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but, it was revealed over time, that she herself was a marijuana addict. I was crushed. I was confused. I lost who I was. I didn’t know where to go or who to turn to. I felt totally alone.
There was nothing to do but fall into the gaping hole that was left from giving up a part of myself to someone who disappointed. When I came up for air, I had found compassion and self-reliance. I recognized that giving myself over was a part of my process, and that she was in a lot of pain.
And that I didn’t need her anymore.
And truth be told, I am still a fan. Of her and others. But in a different, more balanced way.
As humans, we need leaders and we need to follow. We want them to be trustworthy and transparent. And yet, hypocrisy is so often a part of our unconscious existence.
There is a way to follow that won’t set you or the leader up for a fall. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to recognize the human fallibility in all of us. If you’re going to be a fan, you may want to follow these guidelines to keep possession of yourself while you admire, emulate and grow. The best way to be an employee, follower or fan requires knowledge of several things:
1) Getting Specific: What is it that makes you drawn to this leader? What are they modeling for you? What are you getting from them? When will you know you have gotten what they to offer?
2) Big People have Big Shadows: It is always useful to remember the scientific fact that not only is no leader perfect, but frequently, the more light they emanate, they bigger the shadow they cast. Keep your eye out for their darker sides and blind spots so they don’t catch you by surprise. Accept them. Work with them.
3) Differentiate: Sometimes someone has such a profound effect on us, we want to be exactly like them. But in order to be strong enough to be their fan, look for the places where their journey, style or trajectory differ from yours as a way of holding onto and honoring your own journey.
This is how we build trust: we trust ourselves.
I am honored to lead when given the chance. I am inspired to follow. Are you strong enough to be my fan? I vow to be strong enough to be yours.
And remember, whether you’ve got fans or foes, Love Yourself no matter what.