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The Burden of Leadership

By Peng T. Ong

I wrote this note in the period where we were facing having to layoff our fellow team-mates...


There is a burden associated with leading that leaders must be willing to bear.

The best way I can clearly describe this burden is to use an extreme example of a war-time situation. Fortunately, outside of war-time, we do not frequently encounter life and death situations.

A General is in a battle where he has to send a division of his men into a very dangerous flanking maneuver to stop the enemy advance. He knows he will lose thousands of the men in that division. But he also believes that it is the only way to win the battle.

A General who cannot bring himself to send the men into harm's way has no right being a General.

A General who cavalierly orders his men to almost certain death does not have the compassion to be a leader.

Only a General who will make the tough calls, and live with the painful responsibility of sending his men to die, has a right to be a leader. The General cannot avoid the fact that it was his decision that resulted in the deaths of all those men. Yet, he could not have avoided taking that decision and still be an accountable leader. Was there any other way to win and not lose all those lives? He might never know. He just has to live with that decision and those deaths for the rest of his life.

That is the burden of leadership.

Please remember this as you embark on your career of leading: Others will pay the price of your errors and your decisions. But you will also be in a position to make a positive difference to many, many people.

Peng T. Ong September 2006

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