Examining the Penalty of Leadership
August 11, 2014
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald
Nearly one hundred years ago, Theodore F. MacManus, working as a copywriter for Cadillac, wrote a brilliant piece on leadership. Disguised as an ad, the essay titled “The Penalty of Leadership” was written to counter the attack on Cadillac by a rival car company, Packard. It was published only once, in the Saturday Evening Post, on Jan. 2, 1915, and never mentioned Cadillac, or the competition.
Cadillac’s response was indicative of how a leader handles adversity, and the burden of leadership. It serves as a respite for those who have that entrepreneurial spirit and find themselves out front of a creative new idea. Actually, McManus’ essay can be applied to any endeavor where we seek to be bold, take risks and lift our families, our community, or the marketplaces of our lives with a new idea. This excerpt, always relevant, is worth revisiting.
“The Penalty of Leadership”
“In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership is vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work is mediocre, he will be left severely alone – if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work is stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. ... The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy – but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions – envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains – the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live – lives.”
Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit mcd-partners.com