Accountability Means “It’s All of Us” in the Larger World

The commitment I call “it’s all of us” has a certain distinctive “look and feel” whenever a true leader lives it and leads with it. There are lots of different words leaders can use in demonstrating their accountability to this commitment, and there are lots of different actions they can take, but every time this idea is put into practice as a leadership principle, it Inspires people by sending a simple, powerful message via word and deed: “I don’t succeed unless you succeed…and I am  totally committed to making sure that we all succeed together.”

I have seen this commitment play out in both the private and the public sector countless times, as leaders energized people by committing personally to this promise success…and then took action on that commitment, day after day after day. The kind of commitment I am talking about transforms entire organizations. It creates a workforce that is not only supremely loyal, but so committed to delivering quality outcomes that the organization becomes hypercompetitive in virtually any economic climate. Talk about a competitive advantage! Yet this is still not the most compelling expression of this “it’s all of us” commitment, at least not in my experience. The highest expression of this commitment comes when someone delivers this promise beyond the realm of a single organization, in an effort to build accountability to “it’s all of us” in the larger world.

That is exactly what happened recently at Morehouse College in Atlanta, a historically significant educational institution founded in 1867 and dedicated to developing “men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service.” One of the few remaining black liberal arts colleges for men, Morehouse is a remarkable institution. Regardless of whether you have heard of Moorhouse before or not, I can guarantee that you have been touched by its work, for the simple reason that the Institution numbers such figures as Rep. Sanford Bishop, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. among its many notable alumni.

Billionaire investor Robert F Smith, one of the wealthiest men in America, also happens to be on that list of notable alumni. Smith electrified the graduating class of 2019 when he announced unexpectedly, during graduation ceremonies last weekend, that he was setting up a grant program that would eliminate any and all outstanding student loan debt for the 396 young men graduating from Morehouse that day.  His announcement pretty much broke the internet; it also received major coverage via dozens of mainstream news outlets.

Most of the attention has focused on Smith’s personal generosity, and that’s certainly a valid and important element of the story. What has received less coverage is his challenge to the young men of the class of 2019. Smith didn’t simply write each man a check. He told each of the men in that graduating class that he expected something in return for erasing any student loans taken out to pay for a Moorhouse education.

After making his extraordinary commitment and receiving a standing ovation from the graduates and their families, Smith made it abundantly clear what he expected in return. He referred to the 2019 graduating class as “my class,” and then said, “I know my class will make sure they pay this forward..let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward because we care enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American Dream.”

If you were wondering what “it’s all of us” looks and sounds like when it’s a commitment that one leader makes, and keeps, not to a single organization but to the world at large, now you know.

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