On the way home from school in the afternoons, I listen to talk radio. It can vary from local to national news, sports, and even money. The other day I was scanning the channels and stopped on The Dave Ramsey Show. In his intro, after a break, many times, he will say, “Welcome to the Dave Ramsey Show where debt is dumb, and cash is king.” And as usual, that got me to thinking.

Debt… to owe someone else. Most of the time, we think about debt as being related to money. However, many times I see leaders who have what I call “leadership debt.” Yes, I believe “leadership debt” is a thing, it is happening to many, and there is also another side to it.


As you look and listen, we often see transactional leadership taking place – “do this for me, and I’ll do this for you.” I believe that leadership should be a healthy mix of transformational and transactional leadership, with a higher percentage leaning toward transformational. However, when transactional leadership takes place, usually we end up owing.

It goes something like this…
“Hey, I need a favor.
     Ok, what can I do for you?
Well, I need such and such, and if you can come through for me, I will return the favor.
Well, I’m not in a position to do it now, but when I am… I will take care of you.”

It seems to me only one person in the conversation got what they wanted. The other person just sits and waits. So, who owes the debt? I guess you would probably say the person who received the favor. But… what about the person who made good on their end? What did they get? If we think about it in terms of money, they “paid” for something and did not get anything in return but a future promise, and we know how promises are kept… Ultimately, there seems to be only one winner, but do they really win? I see both parties in some form of debt isolation.

The hard part of all of this is many leaders can help others. That is one of the main characteristics of leadership – helping. Do they sometimes need favors? Sure. I do think, however, that they do not need to go around owing others on future promises, while at the same time, the ones who are “paying” need to make sure the return of their investment is healthy, but the return needs to be almost immediate. And when that leader does get to where they can repay… leadership amnesia sets in all the sudden.

I guess what I am trying to say is this… If someone asks you for a “favor,” do it because you want to, not expecting anything in return. Quit giving of yourself to make others look good for their own agenda, and they will start seeking out other weak-minded people. Be true to yourself. When you are, you will be seen as true to others. While at the same time, if you are the one always asking for favors, quit “getting” others to help you get what you want. Do it on your own merit. Yes, it might take more time, and it might cramp your style that you cannot do something you want now, but you will be seen as a much better person.

Yes, Dave Ramsey is right… debt is dumb, but it is even dumber to pay for something and receive nothing in return. As James states, “Let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘no’ be no” (ESV, 2001, James 5:12).

Go be a great educator and leader today… Our future needs it…

Remember… Think Leadership and Be For Others…

©2021 J Clay Norton

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