I was reading an issue of Discover Magazine where they were interviewing different scientists who are specialists in their fields on what they believe will be the biggest happenings over the next 30 years. One of the scientists was talking about being able to actually produce dinosaurs from old DNA for further study because science is close to being able to do it now. Then he said a line that troubled me: "As a scientist, I'm not in the business of trying to determine whether that's the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do. I'm in the business of seeing what is possible."

It reminded me of something Charles Barkley said many years ago when he had gotten himself in trouble once again: "I am not a role model." He was right and wrong at the same time. He wasn't a role model because of how bad his behavior was. He was a role model because all of the people who were really responsible for his making millions of dollars a year, and are still responsible for that, are the people he's supposed to be setting a good example for, especially the children who used to buy his jerseys, and who still run up to him because they see him on TV and in commercials and want his autograph. This is a man saying he'd like to run for governor of Alabama; he doesn't want to be a role model?

Leaders, appointed or de facto, don't get to make the choice as to whether they're going to be role models or not. By the extension of what it is they do they've taken on the responsibility, and thus don't have the right to abrogate it and act like it shouldn't apply to them. I've seen many leaders and managers who put certain conditions on their employees that they would never impose on themselves. Goodness, politicians don't want to pass jobs bills or extend unemployment benefits, yet make sure they get their biannual bump in salary. And of course their health plan is so good that they don't have to worry about any type of universal health plan; how fair is that?

When I was an everyday director, I felt that it was my responsibility to act a certain way and to make sure people knew that I was working all day, even if I wasn't always doing what they were doing, which was most of the time. One day at one of my staff meetings I decided to tell everyone what I did. I'd written out a list, and I read from that list. When I was done, one of the people said "I'm glad I don't have your job." Yet, even though I didn't do the job they did on a daily basis, I knew the job they did because I used to do it. And I would go out of my way to find new ways to do the job so that things wouldn't only run more efficiently, but would help to take stress off them. After all, I felt it was my responsibility to make sure they were taken care of, at least while they were under my direction.

I truly believe those who are visible need to understand their responsibility in doing the right thing. Parents don't have the same hold on children that musicians or actors or athletes do, no matter what they do. Therefore, they need to understand how their actions impact children and do the right thing. Scientists don't have the right to do whatever it is they're going to do whether it could harm others or not just because they can; they know more about what it is they do and should be compelled to consider the ethical and long range implications of what they're thinking about doing before they do it. And leaders and managers should realize that it's not always just about the bottom line, that they're just as responsible for the employees who help them attain levels of progress as they are those levels of progress.

No one gets to abrogate their responsibility just because, no matter what "because" stands for.