This is a word that most of us know, but how many embrace its true meaning in a leadership context. Throughout my life I have witnessed many people who aspire to leadership positions. Doesn't it seem though when they achieve the role sought after for so long, they take on an attitude of "I've arrived"? I have certainly seen this more than I care to elaborate on.
On the simplest level they have arrived, they have achieved their goal. Is this enough? Does the pursuit of a goal justify relaxing, coasting when achieved. Imagine if this was the way it worked with marriage. We go through the courtship, pursuing our love's every need, desire, hope. We listen intently to their heart make promises of a life time of love. Then after the wedding the husband promptly sits in an arm chair, turns on the football game and announces "alright that's over now, back to the game”. Hopefully this does not hit too close to home...
In many respects leading others and living in a marriage relationship are very similar. At the core of both is the concept of sacrifice. In the nature of relationships how can effectiveness be achieved if both parties are most concerned with their own agenda? Such a relationship would be transactional at best and certainly short lived. No, an authentic relationship involves elevating the needs of the other person to a place higher than your own. This is the meaning of the act of sacrifice. Dictionary.com defines it this way.
The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.
Can a man subordinate his own needs to those of his wife? In the case of leadership can the individual surrender their needs for the sake of a greater purpose? Often the needs are complimentary. This is the case in business where the individual is compensated for their efforts of achieving organizational objectives. Those who chose not to sacrifice cannot understand the joy that comes from a deep marriage bond or the sense of purpose of achieving a significant objective. They simply have "no skin in the game".
So what of the leader? A true leader recognizes that their position is a trust bond with the follower. They have a duty, a responsibility to provide guidance and direction to their team. They are counted upon, they are emulated. They cannot separate their position from their followers. It is their example that reinforces the behaviors of the team. If they chose to act with a sense of entitlement "I have arrived, they work for me" then the risk disenfranchising their followers creating an unengaged workforce. If on the other hand they embrace the concept of sacrifice, throwing away any sense of entitlement, they can engage their followers in pursuing the goals of the organization.
How do we get there from here?
If you are in a leadership position and say; "what you are talking about makes sense but how do I develop a sense of sacrifice, responsibility for my team?"
Develop deep relationships
There are no easy answers to this and I am sure some would argue you either have it or you don't. I believe that we can cultivate a sense of responsibility and sacrifice for our followers. You are not likely to make your own needs secondary to those of a total stranger. You will though for a close friend or loved one wouldn't you? Part of the solution lies in a leader’s ability to develop deep meaningful relationships. If you love someone (I am talking brotherly love here) you are far more willing to sacrifice for them.
Take responsibility for things sometimes when they are NOT your fault
Another aspect of developing the ability to sacrifice is the management of one's ego. There is a part in all of us that screams; Me! Me! Me! This part of us holds us back from authentically loving others. Several years ago I developed an exercise to begin to overcome this powerful tendency. I challenge those that I am coaching to find small events where they can take responsibility for a mistake or problem that is not completely theirs. What do I mean? There are always circumstances in life where something happens and it is unclear of who is truly responsible. The root cause is ambiguous and unclear. Perhaps several people are responsible collectively; maybe it is a situation where there is a miscommunication. So pick one of these events (one that has very little potential consequence) and take responsibility for it. Your ego will revolt. The experience will help you see what it means to lead others where you are responsible for their actions. This exercise will prepare you for the responsibility of leadership. Of course if you know you are responsible for something, own it! You cannot lead if you do not have the courage to own your actions and their consequences.
Give away credit to your team freely often and authentically
When your team achieves a goal or objective, be quick to highlight your team’s roles in it. Push them into the spotlight rather than yourself. On the flip side, when things go wrong own the consequences yourself. Protect your team from unfair or harsh scrutiny. This will enhance their level of trust in you. Before you write me off as an idealist lets recognize that there are consequences when you take responsibility for others. I make it clear to my teams that I will back them up (translation take the heat for them) as long as they can provide me a clear and reasonable explanation of their decision making process.
Share your leadership mantle with the leaders on your team and develop them
Finally, the highest level of leadership is when a leader begins to replicate and develop leaders around him. Putting your team in the spot light allows them to begin to understand the joy that is leading others in a noble purpose. Sharing leadership responsibility with them demonstrates your trust in their abilities. Giving them a share of your power helps them to see they too can lead others and creates a legacy of effective authentic leadership. Do not share your mantle in a Pollyanna way. Chose wisely who you will trust to represent your team. Trust team members in small things so they can demonstrate their competence and character before you trust them in large things.
Lets not forget we can neither live a marriage nor lead a team from an armchair. They are for Monday morning quarterbacks…