Oswald Letter

The price of leadership

As I write this, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and tens of millions of viewers will be tuning in to watch the big game tonight. In fact, I heard this morning that 177 million people watched last year’s game. For most of us, our team’s season is over. With 32 teams in the NFL, there’s only a 1-in-16 chance your team is playing in the big game. So we find other reasons to watch the Super Bowl. Some tune in for the commercials, others watch for the halftime entertainment, and a certain portion actually wants to watch the game regardless of whether their team is playing.

One of the big story lines for today’s game is that two brothers are facing off in the Super Bowl as head coaches of the opposing teams. Imagine being at the cusp of the ultimate achievement in your profession only to find that the one person standing in your way is your sibling. To achieve your life’s dream, you need to ensure that your brother doesn’t reach his. It seems to me that regardless of which Harbaugh ends up on top, it will be a bittersweet victory at best.

This situation raises some interesting questions. For instance, at what price are you willing to be successful? As you progress in your career, it’s likely you will take on additional responsibility. With responsibility come choices. And those choices will come to define you.

As a manager, there will be times when decisions you make will affect someone’s career or even life. That can’t be taken lightly. When you take on the responsibility of management, with it come life-altering decisions for yourself and others.

At some point you will have to decide whether to terminate someone. If you determine it must be done, it’s a decision that will take away someone’s livelihood. If you decide not to do it, it could affect the team or even the organization’s success. And if it does, it could ultimately cost you or others their jobs.

What happens when you’re faced with a decision that has negative consequences for you or your family but might be a great thing for the people you manage or the organization for which you work? It might happen someday, and only at that time will you really know how you will respond.

But consider for a moment being caught between self-interest and the company’s best interests. Maybe you come up with a new process or technology that would eliminate your job. Recommend it, and your position will be eliminated and you and your family will face the consequences. Yet it’s the best thing for the company. What do you do?

All of us want to be successful. Many of us want to move up through our respective organizations, but as we do, we will be faced with more responsibility. Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” If you want to achieve greatness in what you do, it requires that you take on responsibility.

Responsibility is defined as “the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management.” You will be answerable for your decisions as a manager. You will be accountable for what you do and how you act. Don’t ever underestimate the pressure that comes from taking on responsibility.

It’s commendable that you want to grow in your career. It’s a good thing that you want to take on the responsibility of management. But don’t ever believe that it’s all going to be sunshine and roses. Sometimes being responsible is going to be hard. It’s not a reason to avoid leadership, but it’s a reality that every leader must accept. Just be glad you don’t have to deny a sibling’s dream to achieve yours!

Note: John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens defeated his younger brother’s San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. John did say that meeting his brother midfield after the game was a lot “tougher” than he had expected.