Life in the Gap

March 31, 2016 | Leadership

By: Ken Embley

As we witness the craziness of our presidential nominating processes, citizens try to find someone who can lead America through tough times.  Collectively, we might have questions.  What is leadership?  Where does a call for leadership come?  Why might a particular candidate emerge as the leader?  Who identifies leaders?  These and similar questions are all about life in the gap.

“Life in the gap” is about what is going on between the many realities and accompanying aspirations we share.  The birthplace of leadership is found in these gaps.  For example, a reality might be that many citizens suffer from the effects of drug addiction.  The aspiration might be to reduce the numbers—and thereby narrow the gap (a Vermont Primary issue).  That gap between reality and aspiration creates a call for leadership, a call for someone who cares about something deeply—where the outcome of closing the gap would make the effort and risk to do so worthwhile.  The question then becomes, which of the presidential candidates can we trust to help us make progress on closing the many gaps we Americans face today?  Come November, the majority who elect the winner will reward their candidate with the title of leader.  Such is “life in the gap.”

“Life in the gap” also encourages us to collectively consider the overriding purpose within which these gaps reside.  This is big picture kind of stuff.  Some might use the metaphor of being on a balcony and observing the action on the dance floor below to gain perspective.  This perspective helps us understand the overriding purpose of each candidate—and the “overarching sense of direction and contribution that provides meaningful orientation to a set of activities in political life” (Ron Heifetz, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership).

The point here is that “life in the gap” considerations help us understand the different presidential candidates and maybe even a little about their real interest to make a difference.  Each gap tells a story from a particular issue and the collective of these gaps tell us about a candidates purpose—his or her interests and overarching sense of direction.

“Life in the gap” is all about the candidates’ leadership story.

Ken Embley is a senior research associate at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.