The Pressure of Projection

Did you watch the inauguration? I hope so. I was moved to tears (a fairly rare occurrence, to be honest, and never watching any previous inauguration). The election and inauguration of Barack Obama is remarkable for many reasons, including, of course, our first African-American president. He also seems to be a thoughtful and disciplined leader, not afraid to take chances in an intentional way, nor to challenge those he leads.

At the same time, millions if not billions of people (at least a million of them right on the spot) in America and around the world are projecting their hopes and dreams on one (human) leader. That’s a lot of pressure. Leaders, including Obama, have to tread carefully as they deal with these inevitable projections. When we pretend the projection doesn’t exist, or doesn’t matter, and say we are “only human,” and think we can say or do whatever we like, we’re in trouble. Likewise, when we internalize the projection and believe our own press, we’re also in trouble. To sustain ourselves as leaders, we have to take almost a meditative stance toward the projections of others: “Oh, there it is.” Then we can make thoughtful choices about how to respond to it.

All leaders must at some point disappoint and disgruntle their followers. It’s the nature of leadership. Obama himself is bound to disappoint, because no one can live up to the build-up we’ve had. It’s true, however, that we are in desperate need of calm, clear and confident leadership nationally and internationally, and my prayers are with him.

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