Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

The Penalty of Leadership

This is the first in an occasional series of mediations on the nature of leadership.

In 1915, Cadillac, which had previously marketed its high quality as an automobile manufacturer, suffered quality problems on its 1915 V8 Touring model. Rival Packard was quick to jump on this and began attacking Caddy for its problems. Cadillac marketing man Theodore MacManus responded with a simple print ad called “The Penalty of Leadership”. This legendary piece, which never mentions Cadillac by name, was a huge success. Even 30 years later in 1945 it was voted the best ad of all time by the industry. As recently as 1998, Advertising Age ranked it 49th out of the top 100 all time ad campaigns. The text of this advertisement is reproduced below.


In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be mediocre, he will be left severely alone – if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountback, long after the big would had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy – but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions – envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains – the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live – lives.

1 Comment
Topics: Urban Culture

One Response to “The Penalty of Leadership”

  1. Big Blu Daddy says:

    I first came in contact with the Penalty of Leadership when my wife and I visited Graceland in 2000. I was transfixed by the text where I believe it was placed on top of a piano. I have never forgotton it and the P.o.L.should be a must read for anyone with aspirations and dreams to achieve. I’m sure the words will strike the reader like lightning much as they did The King and much later myself. Enjoy this and take the pilgramage to Graceland. Here’s to The King. Allan G. Marini Destin Florida

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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