Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If a man hasn’t discovered something he is willing to die for, he is not fit to live.” Does this sound extreme to you? It does not sound extreme to me at all. Throughout our history, we have revered, followed and aspired to be leaders who were willing to commit to a cause that wholeheartedly. The great nation that we enjoy today has been bequeathed to us through the effort of more than two-hundred years of such “ready-to-die” leadership. Today, however, the ready-to-die leaders that we so desperately need are in shorter supply than at any time in our history. Nevertheless, we have the power to reverse this alarming trend.

In this era of “situational ethics”, the ready-to-die leader is becoming extinct. Every day, we see would-be leaders run their ethics through a situational filter. Would-be business leaders often insist that their employees are their “greatest resource” until the pressure to achieve quarterly profitability objectives makes that notion negotiable. Would-be athletic leaders contend that they will always compete “clean” until the pressure to get to the top or stay there makes staying clean an untenable position. Would-be political leaders appear to lay aside their moral compasses with regularity in the interest of quid pro quo, gaining a marker in order to make the next big deal. The net result is our tacit acceptance of the worst of double standards; one relaxed set of rules for me, one more stringent set of rules for my neighbor. All the while, we all abdicate responsibility for the erosion of the overall standard (be it a behavior standard, fairness standard, ethical standard, or performance standard) because in our minds we have not changed our own individual standard. We simply deviate from time to time when “absolutely necessary.”

Unchecked, this attitude of situational ethics and standards will be devastating to the effort of grooming a new generation of great leaders. How can the aspiring leader who will not hold himself or herself to a high standard inspire others to pursue that same high standard? Of course, this would-be leader cannot inspire such a pursuit. Even worse, by rewarding the “situational leader,” we risk creating an environment in which few see the merit in aspiring to lead in a better fashion, like a ready-to-die leader. When we behave as if our standards should be situational or support leaders who behave this way, we tread on extremely dangerous ground. We expose ourselves to the possibility of being on the wrong end of the situation. When we condone situational standards in our leaders, we breed more of this undesirable behavior. Why care for the individuals on your business team when you can make money faster by sacrificing their interests for yours? Why work out harder when you can just use steroids to get the desired end faster? Why live by an honorable set of rules when you can get ahead by simply making your opponent’s flaws look larger than yours?

Why? Because we need the ready-to-die leader. These are the leaders under which our history’s direction has changed for the better. These are the leaders that we followed to the beaches of Normandy, to the moon, in pursuit of the Promised Land. These are the only leaders that can guide us through today’s seemingly overwhelming set of challenges. These are the only leaders who can inspire us to achieve greatness. From “give me liberty or give me death” to “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”, our greatest leaders have not led us with waffling, with equivocation, with “maybe.” Our greatest leaders have always been ready to die for a worthy cause and we have been ready to die with them. And together we have accomplished mighty deeds.

Great leaders and great followers understand the wisdom, the necessity, of having beliefs from which will not be deviated, standards that must always be upheld. We all need to be ready-to-die leaders with ready-to-die causes. By judiciously choosing how we act as leaders and who we support as followers, we can be and have the leaders that our great society deserves.

Author's Bio: 

Brian McClellan is the cofounder and CEO of BAMSTRONG Presentations, a career consulting firm, and the author of The Real Bling: How to Get the Only Thing You Need, a Sherian Publishing title. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, he served as a vice president of sales with Georgia-Pacific Corporation, a Fortune 100 company at the time. A graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia Business School, Brian is a powerful motivational speaker who has mentored countless fellow professionals seeking to improve their personal and professional lives. Brian is also a former rap singer, which is evident in hip-hop sensibility with which he offers his message of self-discovery and self-determination. To learn more about Brian, please visit or BAM Says