Tomorrow’s Memorial Day holiday has me thinking about sacrifice. We’ve set aside this day in the United States to remember all the people who have died while serving in our armed forces. Flags decorate the grave stones of the fallen, reminding us of the ultimate sacrifice paid by others to afford us the privileges we enjoy today.
Sacrifice is part of a leader’s job description. Fortunately, the sacrifice required for most of us doesn’t rival that of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen we celebrate on Memorial Day. Nonetheless, an element of sacrifice is required and it occurs in the everyday, routine interactions between a leader and his/her team members.
In my experience, I’ve noticed three primary sacrifices good leaders make for their people:
Leaders sacrifice their time — Managing people takes time, lots of time. Team members look to their leaders to provide direction and support in all sorts of situations. Leaders find themselves being teachers, counselors, pastors, coaches, parents, cheerleaders, and many other roles in response to the needs of their people. One of the primary ways leaders build trust is by investing time in the personal relationships with their followers. Nothing communicates care and support to a team member more than a leader giving of his/her time. Making time for your people shows you view them as important, worthy of your attention, and that you truly care about them as individuals.
Leaders sacrifice the spotlight — Leaders with big egos hog the spotlight and take credit for their teams’ success. Their philosophy is if something good happens, it’s because of the leader, and if something bad happens, the team screwed up and deserves the blame. Conversely, good leaders shine the spotlight on their team when they experience success, while personally taking the blame when the team fails. It requires emotional maturity for the leader to step into the background and let a team member get the praise and recognition for a job well-done, but it’s the right thing to do. This kind of leadership behavior causes employees to pledge their loyalty, trust, and commitment because they know their efforts will be recognized and rewarded.
Leaders sacrifice self-interest — True leadership is other-focused. It’s about investing in other people to help them succeed, even if it’s at the expense of the leader’s own self-interest. Serving leaders put the needs of their people ahead of their own and sometimes that means team members grow, become accomplished, and even move on to other roles, departments, or organizations. Self-centered leaders are into control and power and will resort to unsavory behaviors in the interest of self-preservation. Great leaders, on the other hand, understand the reciprocity factor. They know the more they give away power and control and promote the interests of their people, the more success and goodwill returns their way.
I’m convinced that leadership is much more about who you are as a person—your beliefs, values, mindsets, and attitudes—than what you do. Leadership is more than a collection of tricks and techniques you employ to accomplish your goals or those of the organization. Leadership is a calling that asks you to invest in the lives of others, and in doing so, make sacrifices along the way.