Give Up

A recent conversation about leadership ended with the question, “Do you know what I’ve gone through to get there?” Yes. I do.

Later I wondered whether the only way to really know is to have gone through it oneself. Probably. I know what an accomplishment it is to have 30 people who don’t report to one consistently do one’s bidding, because I can’t get three people who don’t report to me to spend 10 minutes each month on a simple task. Do I know what it takes to gain influence over them, let alone get them to “jump through hoops”? Apparently not.

The summary given was 1) time, 2) get down in the trenches with them every time you ask them to do something, and 3) take an approach of eagerness to learn from them.

All are worthy of consideration, but the more I thought about it, the more what hit me was the phrase “what I’ve gone through.” It reminds me of the 18th Law of Success – The Law of Sacrifice.

To quote John C. Maxwell:

The life of a leader can look glamorous to people on the outside. But the reality is that leadership requires sacrifice. A leader must give up to go up.

The cliché of “paying dues” is misleading in two ways. For one thing, it suggests that the sacrifice is temporary, that if you put in your overtime, eventually you’ll reach a place where life is easy and the perks extreme – whereas, logically, more responsibility means more and bigger and thornier issues to deal with. But on the other hand, I suspect the cliché limits our idea of what’s at stake. Notice I said “if you put in your overtime.” I’m guessing most will have read right over that without a second thought, and yet, work is only one area where sacrifice can be required, and time is only one of many things on the table.

Maxwell poses a series of questions:

To become a more influential leader… are you willing to give up your rights for the sake of the people you lead? Give it some thought. Then create two lists: (1) the things you are willing to give up in order to go up, and (2) the things you are not willing to sacrifice to advance. Be sure to consider which list will contain items such as your health, marriage, relationships with children, finances, and so on.

As a first step to making such a list, I started brainstorming about the things that are available to be given up, regardless of whether I would do so or not. After about 20 sub-items to the obvious categories (sleep, exercise, hobbies, friends, pay cuts, etc) I landed on these:

  1. Spirituality
  2. Ethics and morals (Enron or Bernard Madoff, anyone?)
  3. Impatience/ dependence on the easy – I would suggest that this and the above are mutually exclusive
  4. Privacy
  5. Rights – Maxwell posits that rights decrease as responsibilities increase
  6. Your own preferences/ self-centeredness –the well-being of the followers or project must come ahead of yourself
  7. Excuses – the ability to shuffle any of the blame onto any other person or circumstance
  8. Security – success is rarely found in the comfort zone, and leaders rarely (ever?) in the pack

Even then, the term “Sacrifice” may itself be misleading, with its aura of passivity and diminishment. If you’re sitting boatless in the middle of the ocean, you will definitely gain from sacrificing your in-flight reading materials and maybe your shoes. But that won’t get you to shore. Progress is made when you start swimming, and start trading more and more of what you have for decreased resistance. Progress is made by motion, not sacrifice.

Turns out much can be sacrificed without gaining leadership, or advancement in some direction. I’ve recently given up about 6 hours of TV each week, and several hours on Facebook, and all I’ve succeeded in doing is not drowning in my to-do list. My ‘Getting Things Done’ post a few weeks ago acknowledged that there isn’t time to do everything. The sad truth is that to accomplish things of real value, you have to sacrifice more than the low-hanging fruit.

I dislike the term ‘compromise;’ to me it sounds weak and cowardly, like the quickest way to get to the lowest common denominator; and ‘sacrifice’ is depressing enough to provoke instinctual resistance. But, yes, life is a series of choices and trades. Success must be bartered for. It’s worth noting that in many cases you’re not discarding your assets. “Sacrificing” time now doesn’t mean you’ve given up your whole allotment, only that you’ve traded this moment of time for something you valued. If you have nothing of value to give, how can you expect to get anything of value in return?

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