[February 28, 2016] For a leader to recognize their own weaknesses and to take action to overcome their own human frailties is the ultimate in responsibility. At least that is what the Roman Stoics would have us believe in – personal responsibility. Yet, there are those that argue modern leaders intentionally encourage irresponsibility by their own acts and beliefs toward others.
I just finished watching the movie – Mrs. Miniver (1942) starring Academy Award winners Greer Garson1 as Mrs. Miniver and Walter Pigeon – about a British upper-class home front during World War II. Much of it is about behaving with grace under pressure, upholding one’s responsibilities despite the war and notwithstanding the contributions we are asked to provide to our society; “stiff upper lip” stuff. It ends with the cleric in a final call to arms from the pulpit of his ruined church.
Watching the American political debates and the Mrs. Miniver movie got me to thinking about how leaders today no longer encourage responsibility in the individual. Politicians are quick to tell us that our personal failures are due to a society where we are cheated out of our place and that a reliance on government is our only solution. This line of thinking is quiet contrary to what we find in our recent past and is a significant departure from the Western concept of responsibility.
“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President
President Roosevelt is telling us the crux of the traditional, Roman Stoic-inspired, view that responsibilities of the individual are inseparable from everyday social interaction and social ethics (like dignity and courage). Whether it be friendship, marriage, parenting, or community, every person should possess the necessary thinking and behavior that advances their human interactions.
… and so it is with leaders. While there are many who foolishly encourage irresponsibility in others, it remains a powerful lesson from history that what we do echoes through time and that the character of great leaders determines our success. Real leaders rise up above the easy path and encourage responsibility in others through their own actions and support.
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- Greer Garson also starred in one of my personal favorite movies from of this era, the British-made classic Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939).