Leadership is responsibility. ~ Peter Drucker

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Leadership is not rank or privileges, titles, or money.  Leadership is responsibility.  ~ Peter Drucker

I like this quote for the obvious reason as well as a more personal reason.

The obvious reason is the reminder not to get drunk on perceived power or privilege when we reach the top of the pyramid—or the next rung of the ladder.  Being in the lead means others are relying on us; we can afford to do sloppy work or fail in our duties even less than before and we must exemplify how to care for others—support their growth and development, manage our team well, be fair in our dealings, treat everyone with respect and fairness.

I remember a law firm partner telling all of us new associates that we had to do great work not just for our own success and our clients’, but also because a lot of people were relying on us.  We had to earn money (from clients) in order to help provide for the law firm staff and their families (through their paychecks and benefits).  I wasn’t working just to cover my own bills; I was also working to help support my assistant, the mailroom people, janitors, paralegals, process servers, mailroom folks, word-processing specialists, etc.  It was a great reality check for a bunch of young lawyers who were suddenly receiving six-figure pay-checks and had leapt over a few rungs on the socio-economic ladder—from poor graduate students to upper-middle class professionals with staff at work and the means to hire personal help (such as house-cleaners).  We no longer had to just take care of ourselves or ourselves and our families; now we also had responsibility for the well-being of our staff and their families.

The less obvious reason I like Mr. Drucker’s statement is that while growing up, I was told that I was “a born leader,” and teachers and school deans often said that we students were expected to become leaders—but there was very little discussion of what that actually meant.  The implication—based on the speakers they brought in and alumni honored as “alum of the year”—was that we should become the head of an organization, found a successful business (for-profit or non-profit), make an impressive scientific discovery, become famous through a form of art, or otherwise do something big, public, and widely influential.  To me, it seemed that aiming small—for a simple, honest, personally meaningful life, working to be the best possible me—was not allowed.  It seemed the price of access to a great education was that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.  I wasn’t even allowed to figure out what I really wanted, because I had the duty to do something big.  So I like this quote because it suggests “leadership” is about how we live—taking responsibility, acting for the greater good in whatever sphere we’re in—rather than achieving a certain vaunted position.  That is a version of leadership I happily accept, rather than feeling oppressed by.

It seems we’ve lost the original definition of “to lead” in the conversion from the verb to the noun “leadership.”  Per m-w.com, to lead is “to guide on a way especially by going in advance;” I would add that a leader points out potential dangers and difficulties and shares their own stories to help others learn and progress more easily.  In fact, as I think of the friends and mentors who’ve been most helpful to me—none of whom is particularly cash rich or famous—that is exactly why they are leaders for me.  Watching and listening to them, I figured out what really mattered most to me.  I realized I didn’t want to emulate the business leaders or “spiritual/life gurus” I was meeting—Pull the curtains back on most of their lives (or just talk to them one-on-one) and it ain’t nearly as pretty as the air-brushed public presence.  The leaders I most admire, respect, and want to be like are the friends and mentors who love the work they do; have great friendships and love relationships; really show up for people; enjoy every day life—“small” things bring them great joy—are truly grounded, humble, and grateful; do what needs to be done without much complaining; share their struggles and failings as readily as their successes; and are honest about the personal work they continue to do.  You won’t find them on the cover of any magazine; they are not “top influencers,” but they are leaders for me.  They have shown me what it looks like to be true to yourself, take responsibility for your life, and attend to what is most important to you.



Jacob Needleman: The Inward Work of Democracy
.  An “On Being” conversation about what Mr. Needleman believes is the real goal and promise of the United States—that we are given the safety and freedom to fully develop our conscience, to cultivate our best selves and help others find greater well-being.  For every right we have, we also have duties and responsibilities.

I have listened to this episode several times and highly recommend it.  It seems especially important now, because of how many American Congressmen and presidential candidates are acting, and because as a society/culture, we seem lost.  Many of us are miserable but don’t quite know why, even those of us who face no immediate threats to safety, security, or comfort.  I think Mr. Needleman’s ideas help to explain a lot of this, and how we can correct course (why we must!).

Two thoughts from Mr. Needleman:

  • [W]hat stands out in terms of the myth of the character of [George] Washington, what stands out is, of course, the phenomenal fact that he turned away from power. He could have had more power than practically anyone in the world after the Revolutionary War, and he could have been — as one observer had said, he could have been king of America. But he stepped down as the head of the Army and he stepped away from political life, and simply surrendered his power. Very few leaders can you find throughout history who have voluntarily stepped away from power like that. He represents, to me, the sacrifice of one’s own personal egoistic desires for power for the good of the country.
  • [Explaining his understanding of what Thomas Jefferson meant by the phrase “the pursuit of . . . happiness” in the Declaration of Independence]:He meant there’s no happiness without virtue. . . . [Happiness] didn’t mean having whatever – just whatever you want. It meant well-being in the traditions that they studied. They were very highly educated in classical thought. Happiness – a better translation of the word is “well-being,” and well-being doesn’t mean continual or lots of pleasure. It doesn’t mean egoistic satisfaction. It means being what you are supposed to be as a human being. So happiness implies a relationship to a truer self within yourself, and I think Jefferson meant that. And I think if you look in the nature of the great spiritual traditions, how they look at and understand human nature, it’s part of the essence of a human being to love, to feel care for others.

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Alexandra Marchosky
Alexandra Marchosky
I coach individuals and organizations to do and be better by more fully living their values.
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