Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
December 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Sacrificial Leadership

Each year as we enter the Christmas season, I like to offer readers something from a classic Christmas movie. This year I’m dipping into the archives to offer a piece I first wrote six years ago, updated for today. Drawing inspiration from It’s A Wonderful Life, we’re going to consider the dynamic of sacrificial leadership. And today, as we battle through likely the most difficult economic storm Alberta has faced in a great many years, our theme is particularly timely. At the time of writing 18,000 Albertans have lost their jobs, and this number only captures layoffs of 50 or more. How will leaders respond to such a challenging period?

Our film tells the story of George Bailey, a small town man with big ambitions to attend university, break free of the little town that is his home and travel the world. When George’s father dies suddenly he steps in to save the bank his father founded. George’s character is contrasted against that of Henry F. Potter, the heartless owner of the other bank and most the town.

George’s decision to put his plans on hold begins a life of sacrificial leadership. At first George sees this as an unfair hardship. The story takes a big turn when his absent minded uncle misplaces an $8,000 deposit and George is threatened with bankruptcy and jail. Standing on an icy bridge he is ready to end his life when his guardian angel intervenes by allowing him to see how the world would have been if he had never been born. George discovers how many lives he has touched.

Sacrifice is at the very heart of all great leadership. George has discovered what eludes so many others: when we step into leadership our choices affect the lives of many others. Good leaders never use their positions for personal advantage as so many poor leaders do. Good leaders understand that their interests come last.

During training in the armed forces the first lesson that is taught to officer candidates is: “troops eat first, officers eat last. See to their welfare first.” I wonder how many corporate leaders will heed this mantra as we move through this very challenging economic storm? What will it look like when they do? Doing all they can to retain as many workers as possible, even if it means a little less on the profit sharing cheque, would be a good place to start.

George’s sacrifices are rewarded by the people he has helped over the years with his mission to provide affordable housing to the hard working people of the town that Potter is bent on exploiting. When these same people hear about George’s situation they pass the hat to gather the money he needs to make the deposit and avoid the disaster. This is how sacrificial leadership works: when a leader demonstrates he or she cares about team members and sees to their welfare first, they reciprocate, they will go to great lengths to help when help is needed.

Many younger leaders learn this lesson with time. Others never get there. It took some time for George to discover that what he first thought of as hardships were actually blessings. The opportunity to make the lives of others better, to be the person who gets them through an economic storm when they need good leadership more than ever, this is what leadership is all about. Reflecting on George’s life, Clarence, his guardian angel tells him, “Each life touches many other lives.” Each leader touches many other lives, some like George Bailey, some like Henry Potter.

Merry Christmas all.

Discussion questions:

  1. How do you see your leadership role through this current economic storm?
  2. Where are the practical opportunities to care for the people you are leading?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
December 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor


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Download our articles below:

Lead Like Scrooge, December 2017

Follow Well To Lead Well, October 2017

Fundamentals First, September 2017

Leadership from Supervisor to CEO, August 2017

Job Fit and Performance, May 2017

Thinking "Corporate", February 2017

Authenticity and Vulnerability?, November 2016

The Pain Problem, October 2016

The Big Question, September 2016

Risky Business, March 2016

Mentoring in the Moment, January 2016

Sacrificial Leadership, December 2015

5 Tactics For Better Meetings, November 2015

Leader as Follower, October 2015

Dynamic Balance, September 2015

Fearless Humility, August 2015

Fear and Accountability, July 2015

Building a Feedback Culture, June 2015

Fostering Accountability, May 2015

Confront or Avoid?, Apr. 2015

The Heart of Accountability, Mar. 2015

Powerful Ambition, Feb. 2015

Inspiring Possibilities, Jan. 2015

Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

Disagree Well, Nov. 2014

Culture and People, Oct. 2014


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