Six Griefs of Good Leadership – (5) DISILLUSIONMENT

In the fifth part of this series looking at the importance for leaders of working effectively with your emotions we will examine DISILLUSIONMENT. How does the emotion that prompts us to let go of inaccurate expectations help us to become better leaders?

  • How could I have thought that?!
  • I thought I was better than this!
  • This is not how it should be!

As with disgust, the word disillusionment is often used to describe people’s reactions to a leader rather than the experience of the leader him/herself. Religious writer John Ortberg has said that ‘Leadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand‘ but it is also about disappointing yourself at a rate that promotes growth.

You would think that removing one’s illusions and false expectations in order to see things more as they really are would be a positive thing. However, the feelings of disappointment or even despair when you discover that something is not how you hoped it would be can be crippling, especially if it’s your illusions about yourself that are being stripped away.

For a leader, there are numerous disappointments waiting to slap some reality into you:

  • The organisational systems that are meant to help you get on with your job but end up being a demented obstacle course.
  • The failure of stakeholders and supporters to live up to their enthusiastic early commitments.
  • The team members who do the one stupid thing you thought it was too obvious to tell them to avoid.
  • The fact that your overwhelming logic and masteful communication skills have completely failed to win over supporters to your great vision.

Leadership training

But disillusionment is an even more important trigger for learning than guilt. Feelings of guilt encourage us to change our behaviours, disillusionment leads us to change the very way we perceive and think about ourselves and the world around us. That sinking feeling when you discover that your assumptions are wrong is the trigger for some serious cognitive restructuring – or possibly a renewed vigour to change reality so that it lives up to your vision.


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