I saw the new Spider-verse movie recently. Stan Lee, through Spiderman, was responsible for making “with great power comes great responsibility” a household quote. However, the concept of a kid who is accidentally bequeathed superpowers through a radioactive spider bite having a duty to use that power for good is actually a very old and common thread in human history.
In August of 1962, the (first) final issue of “Amazing Fantasy”, Issue #15, included a new character written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko. Spiderman was a teenager but not a sidekick, and he had normal doubts, neuroses, and money problems. Peter Parker’s issues with feeling rejected, inadequate, and lonely were things to which young readers could relate. The famous quote was included in a text box in the final panel of the origin story but later retroactively attributed to his guardian, Uncle Ben Parker.
The idea has been around a lot longer, though. Ancient writings and stories originating as far back as the 4th century BC put forward the point that power is not just fun and games. From the Sword of Damocles to the medieval principle of noblesse oblige, literally “nobility obliges”, society has acknowledged this fact. In the Bible, in the book of Luke, we read: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.”
Growing up, I often heard my grandfather (the Founder of Kimray) talk about the duty we had as leaders. He believed that if we were able to be successful at our endeavors, we had a responsibility to invest in and give to the community. In a morally obligatory form of gratefulness, we should acknowledge that our success was impossible without the broader community as a supportive backdrop and therefore do what we could to sustain and grow it.
The ancient Greeks practiced Euergetism, from the Greek εὐεργετέω, “do good deeds”, where high-status and wealthy individuals in society distributed part of their wealth to the community. The idea being that if you could do things to help others, you were morally obligated to do them. More than 50 years after the introduction of Spiderman, we hear Peter Parker say, “”When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t…and then bad things happen…they happen because of you”.
Leaders have power that other people do not have. Often their position leads to them having control over wealth (personal and corporate) and access to opportunities that are not available to the average person. The power and resources leaders have endows them with a moral obligation, not only to not do bad things, but to also actively do good things—to share a greater percentage of their privilege with others and, by their actions, to increase the access and benefit of the community to everyone.
It is not a coincidence that three of the Seven Ways leaders use to create a culture where people feel valued, appreciated, and heard are applications of this principle. As leaders, we should be sharing the reward and prosperity of the company with the contributors, providing opportunities for people to grow, and investing in what matters to them. Uncle Ben was right; the power of leadership comes with the responsibility to care for, invest in, and support all the people in the community where we live and work. You may not be able to shoot webs or walk on the ceiling, but you can make a significant difference in other people’s lives and live the Bison Way.