Why I feel let down by this famous leadership quote

Tarun Kohli
Oct 31, 2018 · 3 min read

“You can buy a man’s time, you can buy a man’s physical presence at a certain place, you can even buy a measured number of skilled muscular motions per hour or day. But you cannot buy enthusiasm, you cannot buy initiative, you cannot buy loyalty; you cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds, and souls. You have to earn these things.” — Clarence Francis

I found this quote trending on leadership forums and I don’t know why, but something about it unsettled me. I understood it’s well-intentioned meaning but there seemed an inadvertent subliminal message to it.

Buy enthusiasm? Buy initiative? Buy loyalty? Buy the devotion of hearts, minds, and souls? Good lord, but WHY? Why do all those things have to be bought in the first place? Shouldn’t these be intrinsic?

Can’t this quote make an employee feel that initiative, enthusiasm and loyalty are things that a leader draws out of them? Like they are a puppet in their leader’s hands.

It suggests that without good leadership, we can’t put our heart, mind and soul into our work.

It makes us believe that our jobs are dull and boring and it’s someone else’s responsibility to enthuse passion into it.

It gives an impression that our initiatives are up for sale, and only a leader has the power to inspire us. No wonder why some professionals are always unhappy irrespective of the group or company they work for. They are constantly looking for that elusive inspiration by hopping jobs in the hope their next job would somehow magically help realize their potential.

Borrowed the concept from the happiness meme

It seduces us into believing that loyalty is a one-way street, and it’s a leader’s job to take the first step and win our loyalty first. Rather than us owning the relationship and laying the first stone in the foundation of trust.

This statement creates an inversion of responsibility. By doing so, doesn’t it go against the philosophy of self-directedness and empowerment?

If this statement was the Gospel truth, then who were Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Mukesh Ambani, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Mozart, AR Rahman, Van Gogh reporting into? Who was buying their devotion to put a dent in the universe? Who was buying their enthusiasm to change the world for better or be one heck of a role model in their careers? Who had captured their mind, body and soul to be the shining stars?

Tongue-tied? Let me give you the answer — No one.

Sure, they had wonderful mentors who guided them from time to time. But no one held their hand to stay more curious, motivated, productive and do stellar work.

And it’s not them, there are countless others who practice great discipline at work. Who show up at work with the same discipline. Everyday. Ready for their chance to become better, create something better. To make a difference, you know. People who use the same measured number of skilled motions per hour because that’s what leads to greatness.

So, don’t sell yourself short. Don’t wait for something or someone to show you the way. Don’t handover the baton of your intrinsic motivation to someone else.

Instead, just start. The onus of doing great work lies on your shoulders. No one is obliged to make you feel valued, skilled or worthy of a job.

Be your own boss. Get outside your comfort zone. Be Curious. Take ownership. Try to become a person who adds value to their team, not the person who becomes a burden. Win their loyalty first. Manage upwards. Be self-directed. Be disciplined. Show up everyday. Do great work.

Leave a legacy.


I wrote this blog for our Medium Publication- Unboxing Product Management. The publication is a weekly column by leaders of Quovantis to share their learning and knowledge with the world. If you liked reading the blog, clap your heart out and help others find it.

Unboxing Product Management

Your weekly dose of everything related to Product, Process and People.

Tarun Kohli

Written by

Founder & CEO of Quovantis, an avid book reader and a student for life

Unboxing Product Management

Your weekly dose of everything related to Product, Process and People.