Leadership Lesson 6: Sacrifice like a Mom!

Abhishek Paul
2 min readJan 31, 2019

My study of leadership has brought me to “Courageous leadership” and more specifically, the aspect of sacrifice. I’ve resonated with Simon Sinek’s most recent take on the “infinite game” (a game changing concept, can’t wait for the book!). An essential component of playing the game is having courageous leadership. One of the attributes of a courageous leader is what he’s willing to risk / sacrifice — does he sacrifice his people to protect his interests (layoffs to meet goals) or does he protect his people and sacrifice his goals (short term).

I’ve been troubled by the way in which balancing of books by firing people has become the norm. So the idea of sacrifice in business (of the right kind) is something that I’m focussing my research on. In the course of his talk, Simon shared this anecdote of the terrorist attack at Nairobi, Kenya in 2013 which left more than 65 people dead. Tyler Hicks, a photographer happened to be close to the scene when it happened and took this picture — this was later awarded the Pulitzer prize.

The image of a mother placing her body on her 2 year old son with her 10 year old daughter lying next to her is powerful in itself, but what the image doesn’t convey makes the mother’s action all the more amazing. She had to lie down in that position with her kids for over 4 hours(!) while bullets and bodies lay on the other side of the table — in fact you can see shell casings around her! They survived thanks to the heroic act of the mother.

When a young mother instinctively knows what to do during a tragedy, how can senior leaders with time to think things through decide that the best option is to give people their marching orders or make any other self centred decision for that matter? This cannot be leadership, let alone courageous leadership.

Sacrifice was demonstrated by the Barry Wehmiller company when their CEO Bob Chapman was asked to let go of some of his people post the 2008 recession — he refused. Instead he announced a company wide unpaid 4 week furlough program and communicated it by saying,“it’s better that all of us suffer a little rather than some of us suffering a lot.” This ended up increasing the morale of the people and they voluntarily started to trade their furlough period (some taking 5 so others could take only 3) depending on who needed it more. This is sacrifice, this is what a true leader does and that’s what makes him courageous!