When We Ask Others to Sacrifice
On rare occasions, a situation demands that the team make sacrifices to achieve an extraordinary result or to avoid succumbing to a potentially catastrophic event. In these rare moments, leaders ask everyone to show up and make the needed sacrifice. All hands on deck, as the sailors say. No exceptions.
Sacrifice requires team members to temporarily step aside from family and personal commitments and focus exclusively on the task at hand until it is resolved. Asking for others to suspend what they have previously planned for to help the team is not a small request, and leaders should make it judiciously.
Within most teams and organizations, the ground rules for sacrifice are often foggy, unstated, unclear, or all three. Setting the boundaries and guardrails of sacrifice before the need for it arises helps team members understand what will be asked of them and why. This preemptive discussion casts sacrifice as a highly rare event that will call the team together beyond normal working hours only when absolutely necessary.
Three ground rules are worth highlighting. First, the leader must always sacrifice along with the team. Nothing destroys leadership credibility faster than a leader who watches others sacrifice or hold themselves above the commitment.
Second, when sacrifice is necessary, everyone is asked to sacrifice so no one person carries more of the burden. When leaders repeatedly ask only certain people to sacrifice, they inadvertently punish those best at their jobs.
Third, the best leaders ask others to sacrifice only on rare occasions, and then clearly articulate the reason for the sacrifice and the expected duration. They avoid open-ended timeframes where team members have no idea how long the commitment to sacrifice will last.
While sacrifice is a part of life and team solidarity, it is not supposed to be a frightful hardship. When we sacrifice for others, we put the team ahead of our own individual interests. Teams that fight through rough moments by sacrificing become stronger. Leaders who ask for sacrifice too often blow up team morale.
Great post today. While reading, at least a dozen examples popped into my brain. When this is done well, people and teams pull together and come out with a shared experience that bonds them for weeks, months, in some cases years. Some early career personal examples are: 1) Having 24 hours notice to build structured interviews for all job levels in a division (about 30); 2) Finding out Friday afternoon that our manager promised we could not only do a better job in creating/deploying a company survey than an outside vendor (cost savings of $100K), but that we'd be ready by Monday morning; 3) Building a database in less than 6 hours to track money being wired to employees and their spouses during Hurricane Katrina to get them off the streets and out of their cars. In each case, the leader pulled the team together, explained the situation, set expectations, and helped lay out the plan to get it done. And of course, they were there helping us in anyway they could including bringing us coffee and food.
I recall a job where "crisis mode" was the norm. I should have departed before my breakdown. 🤣