Authority Without Responsibility

Gladiator is one of my favorite movies. It is also a great storytelling example of good vs. evil, favorite vs. underdog, and most importantly, earned leadership vs. entitled leadership.

In the first scene of the movie, we see Maximus, the main character played by Russell Crowe, with dirt on his hands and face riding horseback through the mud shouting commands and encouragement to his men preparing for battle, and then entering into that battle alongside his fellow Romans. Standing shoulder to shoulder with them in warfare; risking his life just as they are. He is above them in rank as a result of experience and knowledge, but equal as a human.

When the battle ends, and bodies are strewn amongst the forest we see Commodus, the son of Caesar played by Joaquin Phoenix, ride onto the field on horseback. He jumps off his polished white horse and runs to his father asking, “Did I miss it? Did I miss the battle?”

His father, Caesar, responds, “You’ve missed the war.”

Authority without responsibility is a rampant epidemic of leadership throughout the world. You cannot have the authority of leadership without the responsibility of it. Commodus had a title and Maximus had earned loyalty. Those who become leaders understand the magnitude of the burden because they’ve carried it before, often doing it with all of the responsibility but none of the authority. You must endure the struggles, the fight, the difficult conversations, the firing, the honesty in downtimes, the transparency in good times, and you must do it all alongside the ones who are fighting for you.

Leadership is earned and the only ones who can formalize your leadership are the ones whom you are leading. The assumption of leadership status with an unearned title is a shameful badge. The “A” on your chest. When you assume authority you delegate the tasks required to accomplish the goals but you never delegate the responsibility of your leadership.

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