The Burden of Leadership


The Burden of Leadership defined

If you are familiar with the court system and our judicial process, then you might know the phrase “the burden of proof.”  In any judicial setting the defense attorney has the “burden of proof” due to our “innocent until proven guilty” assumption in America.  The burden means that the defense attorney must provide enough evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.  If this is not done, then the decision by the judge or jury must rule in favor of the prosecution even if no effort is made on their behalf.  The expectation and understanding of the burden of proof is what makes our judicial system a fair and equitable process that aligns with our constitution.  There is a lesson to be learned in this scenario that relates to leadership roles in organizations.  To be clear, I am not suggesting that leaders approach situations similar to a lawyer would, although at times this may be warranted.  Rather, some leadership positions have an expectation and assumption that the leader caries the burden of leadership.  Some individuals accept “the burden of leadership” more than others.  Those that reject “the burden of leadership” may have a more difficult time in their role much like a defense attorney would if he/she did not accept “the burden of evidence.”  I would argue that the most successful defense attorney’s have a strong understanding and ability to embrace this “burden.”  Similarly, Leaders that embrace the “burden’s” associated with leadership may find more success within their organization.

What are the burdens associated with leadership?

While it is true that leadership may be found at all levels of an institution, there are some positions that expect certain leadership qualities.  Some of the roles that have the “burden of leadership” may include: principals, presidents, governors, CEO’s and other business executives.

With the burden of leadership comes expectations and responsibilities related to casting a vision and ethical discernment.


The burden of casting a vision.  Leaders within organizations have a unique expectation to cast a vision to determine the direction of the institution.  A vision may address questions such as;

  • Where are we headed?
  • What Should I expect in the near and distant future regarding this institution?

For example, Sam Steinberg vision began as a corner grocery store to the largest shopping market in Canada.   Steinberg’s visioning ability is a good example for leaders that are continuing to develop in this area.


The burden of ethical discernment.  Stephen Covey states, “Discernment is often far more accurate than either observation or measurement.”

  • Is this a problem to be managed or solved?
  • Who should be involved with this decision?
  • In what way should this information be shared?

For example, the philosopher Ruth Chang has a TED talk where she discusses how leaders should think about difficult decisions.  You can view this link here.  Discerning leaders understand that difficulty decisions may not always be represented by numerical values.  Understanding this may help leaders discern more effectively.

Effective leaders understand the burden of leadership by casting a vision and embracing discernment.  Leaders that do not embrace these concepts may have difficulty due to the expectations of the constituents.  Before accepting a leadership position, ask yourself, ‘Do I want the “burden of leadership?”‘  Keep in mind that those observing and judging your efforts will expect you to provide a vision and adequately discern difficult circumstances.

Dr. Nathan Herzog




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