Everything worthwhile is uphill. I’ve been saying this for a while now, but the more I think about it, the more I know it’s true. Whether you’re talking about personal growth, personal health, business or some other aspect of life, nothing of value is easy. The precious things in life require something in exchange.
It reminds me of a quote from missionary Jim Elliott: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Leaders are well aware of the need to sacrifice. The decisions leaders face almost always include some measure of giving up something in order to gain something; for leaders, life is always a set of scales that need balancing. One of the easiest places to see this principle at work is parenting. Whether it’s a good night’s sleep, a weekend getaway, or your dream car, as a parent you understand that sacrifices must be made for your children.
But it’s not just parents who have to make sacrifices. As leaders in businesses and organizations, we are called to make tough choices on behalf of our people. Sometimes the sacrifices are obvious and simple. You let go of a little money to gain a better product. You promote a fantastic worker because they’ll make an even better leader. You release a great employee to go and chase their dream.
Sometimes the sacrifices are harder and more draining. You have to cut the budget in order to keep the company afloat. You have to admit your organization made a mistake in production. Or, even harder, you have to admit that you made a bad choice as a leader and cost the company millions.
Regardless of the type of sacrifice, every leader must be willing to make sacrifices, because leaders are expected to pay the prices others won’t pay. That’s what makes you the leader! But it’s not just about making the hard decisions—good leaders make the hard decisions when they need to be made. Being able to face the moment of decision and choose the hard path of sacrifice in that moment defines the greatest leaders in history.
I challenge you, in your growth as a leader, to be willing to face – and even embrace – sacrifice when it is called for, to help your people and organization thrive. I’ve often said that we have to “give up to go up.” I believe that no matter how challenging the sacrifice, you will end up understanding that it was worth it to take your leadership to the next level.
I have a second challenge for you: In your life, you can probably think of several people who made the right sacrifices at the appropriate times to help you become the person you are today: parents, teachers, friends, family. I encourage you to take time this week to thank those people for the sacrifices they made on your behalf. I believe that so much of our success in life comes from standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. The people who made important tradeoffs contributed to who you are. Thank them today.
Finally, I have one more challenge, and it is the main reason why I chose today to write about sacrifice. This weekend, America will celebrate Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember the men and women who gave their lives while serving in our armed forces. It is a day that dates as far back as 1866, when the citizens of Waterloo, New York, gathered together to honor their sons and daughters who had died in the Civil War. The US holiday became official in 1966, and for the last fifty years this weekend has been part of our national mindset.
I am grateful for all of the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. As a leader, I find their willingness to give themselves to the cause of freedom inspirational, and I agree with President Lincoln, who said it best: “From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
Sacrifice is at the heart of leadership, and the men and women we will honor on Memorial Day were leaders in the best sense. Whether they sacrificed on the field of battle or in some other way, who we are as a nation is the result of their willingness to give when it was needed. So it is my privilege to honor those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. To their families, I give my thanks—and I encourage you to do the same.