“No matter who you are, I guarantee that there is something I will find fascinating about you.”–Mark Young


Mark Young, former Navy Pilot and CSO and SVP of IronNet Cybersecurity talks with Norman Sandridge (classics professor at Howard University, fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies) about the sense of gratitude that motivates him to lead. They explore both what it means to be a mentor and to be mentored in a leadership role. They think about the extent to which leadership is a kind of acting and if so, whether it is also a kind of (inauthentic) manipulation. They reflect on a passage of ancient leadership in Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades and they study passages in Shakespeare and Jack London that have informed the kind of leader Mark has become. Listeners may click on the questions below that are most relevant to them.


  • What leadership roles has Mark held? 00:01:26
  • What is the essence of leadership in Mark’s understanding of the word? To what extent does it have to do with responsibility? 00:04:50
  • How does Mark’s sense of accountability keep him in dialogue with his followers? 00:07:56
  • Does Mark identify a leader even when performing roles in which he is not the expert? 00:09:13
  • Does Mark ever find himself in situations where his example as a leader is too hard for others to follow? 00:11:58
  • What does Mark get out of the leadership role if it’s not glory, recognition, or prestige? 00:15:00
  • Are Mark’s ideas about leadership informed by any religious views, like karma? 00:18:07
  • How unusual does Mark seem to himself compared to other leaders he’s familiar with? 00:19:18
  • Why is it so uncommon for a leader to care a lot about the well-being of the followers? 00:22:25
  • What are some works of literature or characters in literature that Mark feels have informed his identity? 00:25:22
  • What does it take to be a nurturing leader? Has Mark ever been exhausted by the cognitive burdens of emotional intelligence? 00:30:01
  • How has Mark handled bad news in a leadership role? 00:32:28
  • How successful has Mark been at replicating himself in others? How successful has he been at mentoring women? 00:34:13
  • Does Mark believe that his mode of leadership is as accessible to women as it is to men? 00:38:44
  • Has Mark ever had to “act” or play a role as a leader? 00:41:45
  • Has Mark ever known leaders to “act” in order to manipulate others? 00:48:06
  • Has Mark ever found himself playing up to the expectations of others (and not authentically being himself)? 00:51:50
  • Has Mark ever known a leader like Plutarch’s Alcibiades? 00:53:00
  • Has Mark ever felt any pressure to be someone other than who he was in order to win or hold a leadership role? 00:56:00
  • What are some examples of literature that have informed Mark’s leadership? 00:59:40
  • Can Mark remember the moment when King Lear’s views of leadership really resonated with him? 01:02:52
  • Has Mark been successful at convincing people to love the truth more than they did before? 01:04:18
  • What is another example from literature that influenced Mark as a leader? 01:07:25
  • What’s a problem of leadership that Mark still wrestles with? 01:15:15
  • What else would Mark like to be as a leader (traits, habits, insights)? 01:16:40

Key Insights

  • Ideas of responsibility and leadership vary according to the size and nature of an organization.
  • Leadership is the responsibility to set the direction and keep the organization focused on its goals.
  • A leader may be well-trained, experienced, and informed but is never as smart as the whole group.
  • Mentors are invaluable in leadership development.
  • Leaders have a responsibility to make others’ lives better.
  • “From those to whom much has been given, much is expected.”–Parable of the Faithful Servant
  • Staying focused on how to be a model to others helps the leader keep personal ambitions in check.
  • When things go wrong with a group, the leader should first question his/her role in the failure.
  • If the mission fails, it is the leader’s fault. If the mission succeeds, none of the credit goes to the leader. This perspective keeps the leader humble and assures the followers that he/she will support them.
  • The leader can find satisfaction in the personal growth of the followers.
  • When you help someone along their journey…there is some sort of karmic equivalency to say, “If I want someone to do that for me in the future, I will do that for those that I can.”–Mark Young
  • “Inside the way I feel is there’s a goodness that I’ve put out into the universe which will come back to me.”–Mark Young
  • “Why would I want you on my team if I’m not interested in your betterment?”–Mark Young
  • “It’s important for the people that you lead to have a voice.”–Mark Young
  • “The higher you go, the more bad news you’re going to get. Adopt it. Enjoy it. Internalize it. And be o.k. with it.”–Mark Young
  • “The best actors are the most authentic.”–Mark Young
  • “No matter who you are, I guarantee that there is something I will find fascinating about you.”–Mark Young
  • “The truth is what it is. The more you soften it, the more you round out the edges, the true it becomes.”–Mark Young

Works Referenced

Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades 23.4-5

4 He had, as they say, one power which transcended all others, and proved an implement of his chase for men: that of assimilating and adapting himself to the pursuits and lives of others, thereby assuming more violent changes than the chameleon. That animal, however, as it is said, is utterly unable to assume one colour, namely, white; but Alcibiades could associate with good and bad alike, and found naught that he could not imitate and practice. 5 In Sparta, he was all for bodily training, simplicity of life, and severity of countenance; in Ionia, for luxurious ease and pleasure; in Thrace, for drinking deep; in Thessaly, for riding hard; and when he was thrown with Tissaphernes the satrap, he outdid even Persian magnificence in his pomp and lavishness. It was not that he could so easily pass entirely from one manner of man to another, nor that he actually underwent in every case a change in his real character; but when he saw that his natural manners were likely to be annoying to his associates, he was quick to assume any counterfeit exterior which might in each case be suitable for them. (translation by Bernadotte Perrin)

Shakespeare’s King Lear


To thee and thine hereditary ever

Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom;

No less in space, validity, and pleasure,

Than that conferr’d on Goneril. Now, our joy,

Although the last, not least; to whose young love

The vines of France and milk of Burgundy

Strive to be interess’d; what can you say to draw

A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.


Nothing, my lord.






Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.


Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave

My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty

According to my bond; nor more nor less.


How, how, Cordelia! mend your speech a little,

Lest it may mar your fortunes.


Good my lord,

You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I

Return those duties back as are right fit,

Obey you, love you, and most honour you.

Why have my sisters husbands, if they say

They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,

That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry

Half my love with him, half my care and duty:

Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,

To love my father all.

Plutarch’s Moralia: How to Discern a Flatterer from a Friend

Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

Jack London, Call of the Wild

“It was inevitable that the clash for leadership should come. Buck wanted it. He wanted it because it was his nature, because he had been gripped tight by that nameless, incomprehensible pride of the trail and trace–that pride which holds dogs in the toil to the last gasp, which lures them to die joyfully in the harness, and breaks their hearts if they are cut out of the harness.”

Jack London, The Sea Wolf

“Later in the morning I received a surprise of a totally different sort.  Following the cook’s instructions, I had gone into Wolf Larsen’s state-room to put it to rights and make the bed.  Against the wall, near the head of the bunk, was a rack filled with books. I glanced over them, noting with astonishment such names as Shakespeare, Tennyson, Poe, and De Quincey.  There were scientific works, too, among which were represented men such as Tyndall, Proctor, and Darwin. Astronomy and physics were represented, and I remarked Bulfinch’s Age of Fable, Shaw’s History of English and American Literature, and Johnson’s Natural History in two large volumes.  Then there were a number of grammars, such as Metcalf’s, and Reed and Kellogg’s; and I smiled as I saw a copy of The Dean’s English.

“I could not reconcile these books with the man from what I had seen of him, and I wondered if he could possibly read them.  But when I came to make the bed I found, between the blankets, dropped apparently as he had sunk off to sleep, a complete Browning, the Cambridge Edition.  It was open at “In a Balcony,” and I noticed, here and there, passages underlined in pencil. Further, letting drop the volume during a lurch of the ship, a sheet of paper fell out.  It was scrawled over with geometrical diagrams and calculations of some sort.

“It was patent that this terrible man was no ignorant clod, such as one would inevitably suppose him to be from his exhibitions of brutality.  At once he became an enigma. One side or the other of his nature was perfectly comprehensible; but both sides together were bewildering. I had already remarked that his language was excellent, marred with an occasional slight inaccuracy.  Of course, in common speech with the sailors and hunters, it sometimes fairly bristled with errors, which was due to the vernacular itself; but in the few words he had held with me it had been clear and correct.”

The Cadet Creed at Norwich Academy (in part):

“I believe that the cardinal virtues of the individual are courage, honesty, temperance and wisdom; and that the true measure of success is service rendered—to God, to Country, and to Mankind.

“I believe that the fundamental problem of society is to maintain a free government wherein liberty may be secured through obedience to law, and that a citizen soldiery is the cornerstone upon which such a government must rest.

“I believe that real education presupposes a sense of proportion in physical, mental, and moral development; and that he alone is educated who has learned the lessons of self control and open-mindedness.”

Further Reading

Jack Welch, Winning (2005), Straight from the Gut (2003)

Michael Hayden, The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (2018)

Earnest Shackleton, South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition

Patsy Rodenberg, The Second Circle: How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation (2008)