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The Cost of Leadership

October 10, 2023

It’s college football season!

So chances are, if you turn on any sports network, you’ll hear plenty of “coach speak.”

Sure, there are some fun one-liners from Prime Time Deion Sanders, the head coach at Colorado. And Alabama coach Nick Saban, always seems to entertain when he gets frustrated with members of the media. 

But most of what you’ll hear are coaches (and the student-athletes), who have been painstakingly prepared with PR training, saying only the right things on camera. I respect the discipline, but it typically means interviews are far less fun. 

With all this “coach speak” flying around, I was encouraged to come across this video of University of Georgia coach Kirby Smart (Go Dawgs!) from the pre-season SEC media days. It’s no wonder that coaches are concerned about how they and their players appear on camera;

their leadership places them in a position where what they communicate carries a lot of weight.

This is why Coach Smart gave his time in front of the camera to talk about something bigger than football—the cost of leadership. 

He gave three examples of difficult things good leaders experience:

  1. They make hard decisions that sometimes negatively affect the people they care about.
  2. They will be disliked despite their best attempts to do the best for the most.
  3. They will be misunderstood and won’t always have the opportunity to defend themselves.

His comments reminded me of the Leadership Triangle.

The Leadership Triangle illustrates a truth that not everyone looking for a higher leadership position realizes. On one side of the triangle we have influence and on the other we have responsibility. As your leadership increases, so does your influence and your responsibility. Most of us like that part. But we often overlook the middle word: choices. 

As your influence and responsibilities increase, your choices narrow. Why? Because the stakes are higher, each decision becomes more important, carries greater impact, and has far-reaching consequences.

Like Kirby Smart explained, a leader’s decisions are weighty. The cost of leadership isn’t something you can ignore. 

The question is: Are you willing to pay the price of leading?

Consider how your own degree of influence and responsibility affects your choices.
If you wish you had more influence and responsibility, count the cost.

If you have more narrow options than you like, don’t begrudge your responsibility and influence; lean in. 

Are your choices limited? Yes.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. 

Your position is a privilege, and you should use it to make a lasting impact.


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