Thursday, March 13, 2008

Playing the Role

Charles De Gaulle once said, "There are many things I would have liked to do but could not, because they would not have been fitting for General De Gaulle."

De Gaulle knew the importance of playing the role. Many people do not. Infected by the idea that their feelings are more important than their responsibilities, they fail to - as the phrase goes - "rise to" the latter.

Roles matter. Parents, supervisors, presidents, athletes, mechanics, spouses, and others are expected to fulfill certain roles. Those who fail to do so are not living up to the implied conditions of their job descriptions. The other sides of their personalities can be saved for private moments, but when they are supposed to be "on," the role must be respected because roles reassure. They signal that this person is a reliable performer who cares enough to present the usual manner of a reliable performer.

Watch a clip of the latest celebrity news and you'll long for the days when the movie studios controlled the public images of stars. We weren't subjected to this actor's adulteries or that one's drinking problem and, I would submit, we were the better for it. Today, it can be difficult to see some stars on the screen without thinking of this scandal or that rehab instead of the character they are paid to portray.

Can people be unconventional and still have substance? Absolutely. But they are the exception. Odds are the attorney, consultant, or business executive who shows up for a client meeting dressed like a member of a motorcycle gang is not a free-spirited genius.

A role is being played but not the one the client desires.


bummpy said...

I see the point you're making, but I can also see another side to this...

Are you implying that the people around you (or more directly, the people who offer you money for your services) should define who you are?

I'm just playing the devils advocate

Michael Wade said...


Good question. I'm saying that your conduct should not detract from the performance of your responsibilities. To a certain extent, our customers and associates define not who we are but how we behave. I've taught a lot of classes while exhausted/tired/unhappy/sick but I hope that never came across to the audience. They have certain reasonable expectations of a person in my role and, if I'm to maintain that role, I need to meet those. Some exceptions would be if they expect unethical or criminal behavior or if their expectations are unreasonable.