Memorial Day is the day we remember those who paid the greatest price for our freedom. It is honoring to pause and reflect on those who gave what they could never take back. These are the heroes whose sacrifices we cannot fully comprehend for most of us will never be called upon to give so much. Yet, if we are to truly honor their bravery we would do well as leaders to imitate in our own small way the manner in which they gave.
As I considered their sacrifice and how I might model that as a leader, three things stood out to me:
- They defended the absent. Our fallen veterans largely served away from home, but home was never forgotten. They served because they loved the place they called home. And they served because those at home needed their strength and resolve. Despite fatigue and imminent danger, they pressed into their mission. As leaders, we do well to press into the mission of our organization as well; not for personal gain, but to advance a cause much greater than ourselves. Leaders defend the absent every time they act consistently with those above and below them regardless of the cost. They take responsibility for the outcome of their team and defend their charges when they can’t go to battle for themselves, never shooting their own to cover their mistakes or avoid hardship.
- They served the present. No soldier stands or acts alone. He’s part of a tightly integrated unit that, though comprised of many soldiers, act as one. Many of the sacrifices we honor on Memorial Day were for those who made certain that no man was left behind. We lead best by that example as well. The politics of self-interest or one-upmanship never advance the cause of an organization. The effective leader instead seeks to build cohesion with his peers and alignment throughout the organization.
- They honored the incumbent. Respect and honor are an integral part of the military code. A clear chain of command and respect for office are a requirement of service. Those who lost their lives did so, not because they wanted to, but because they were obedient to the mission they had been given by their authorities. While most businesses do not required such a rigid command and control structure, we can learn something as leaders in showing honor to those who’ve gone before us as leaders, or presently serve as our leaders. We would do well to practice the humility of Isaac Newton who said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” When our criticism of our boss exceeds our desire to serve him or her, we’ve lost what it means to lead and to follow sacrificially.
As you remember those who lost their lives in faraway lands, consider bringing their sacrifice home in how you lead your workgroup. When you do, you’ll raise the value of their gift for everyone you serve.
What leadership lessons have you learned from those who served our country?