What comes to mind when you hear the word leadership?
Task master? Manager? Napoleon? Trump?
My thoughts on leadership has changed over the years, and it’s been largely shaped by experience and study. Most of my real-life experience has taught me that leaders are those that step on the low so that they can elevate themselves. They push their employees to work harder so that they can reap the benefits, either through micromanagement or no management at all. But there have been moments in my life when I’ve glimpsed what true leadership should be: going to bat for your team, working late so others can go home early, developing an individual even if it means neglecting yourself. True leaders are selfless. They are coaches. They are servants.
Servant? That doesn’t make sense. The employees serve the employer, not the other way around. That’s what I always thought. After all, how can a leader effectively lead an organization if they are truly more concerned with the welfare of others than they are about themselves?
We tend to think of sacrifice as something we’d rather not do. But if it’s about giving up something we love for something or someone we love more, sacrifice is a huge morale builder and energizing influence.
Consider the plight of most walk-ons in college and university athletic programs. These are the individuals who make the choice to be part of the team—working just as hard, doing everything the scholarship players do—yet receive little or no recognition or playing time but for a few minutes over the entire course of the season. Without these players making the selfless contributions and sacrifices—day in and day out— for the good of those who get most all of the playing time, many programs would not realize the success they have become accustomed to. Fundamentally, selflessness is and always has been a cornerstone of consistently great teams and programs or organizations.
It’s so easy to take selflessness for granted. Think for a moment about how most Americans viewed fire fighters, policemen, paramedics, and rescue workers before September 11, 2001. Most of us took these people for granted, that they are just part of the routine workforce that is part of virtually every American community across the nation. But that changed when, perhaps for the first time, we realized that every day, these selfless people literally put their lives on the line “for the team”, for citizens they don’t even know but who are part of their community and are therefore worth them doing their job—and doing it exceedingly well. I think of our nation’s military warriors, those highly trained and highly skilled professionals who step into places I wouldn’t ever want to go to serve and protect me, and all the other American citizens like me—all without ever asking for so much as the decency to respect them as fellow Americans. Selflessness, indeed.
A wise observer once remarked that a person doesn’t become whole until they are connected to something or someone bigger than themselves. I played sports throughout my life and thought I had a pretty good handle on what team and selflessness and sacrifice was all about—but it all changed the day I became a Dad. I realized that my family was now part of something much bigger than me, that I was growing as a person by allowing me to become a parent to this beautiful new and healthy girl.
I’ll never forget the thoughts that ran through my mind as I held our little girl, Chloe. There frankly wasn’t anything about me that mattered much anymore, because this child was totally dependent on my ability to meet her needs. She was thrust into a world she didn’t sign-up for. Mom and I
were all she had, and without us to help her in just about every way thinkable, she would be in serious trouble.
Sacrifice took on new meaning, because it would mean my making sacrifices of things I didn’t even know I liked…until I had to sacrifice them to take care of our family.
Team took on new meaning, too, because it now included a new member, one who would go on to make a dramatic impact on our family in ways we could never have imagined. It was no longer about me realizing my potential as a person, but now helping Chloe realize hers as well.
I got a completely new look at what the depth of selflessness really means in the context of parenting. The principle about not just about giving up yourself for others, it’s about an eagerness to serve, to do whatever it takes to help others around you be great. The “want to” required to do this isn’t just about mental strength or resolve…it’s about sacrificial love.
Zig Ziglar has widely become known for his credo, “If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.” Leading well truly is about serving others first before self. It’s about the humility and maturity to delay personal recognition or satisfaction in order to serve the growth in others.
As you consider those who look to you as leader, consider ways you could communicate to them that they matter through your selfless actions or attitudes today.