The Altar of Sacrificial Leadership

It all began some 15 years back when a researcher-theorist named Greenleaf said that a leader should be a servant first.

The core tenet in servant leadership was that a leader should focus on placing the needs of followers before his own agenda and interests and, in a planned manner, working grooming other leaders to also be servant leaders.

Many organisations such as Southwest Airlines, Schneider Corporation, U.S. Airforce, Zappos, YUM Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s & more)to name some formalised the servant leadership program and built several programs to integrate it into their culture.

One of the offshoots of servant leadership was sacrificial leadership. Choi and Mai-Dalton define self-sacrificial leadership as “the total/partial abandonment, and/or permanent/temporary postponement of personal interests, privileges, and welfare in the (a) Division of labour, 
(b) Distribution of rewards, and/or (c) An exercise of power.”

The Altar of Sacrificial Leadership

Take Sankar for example. His ultimate goal at the workplace is to get the business goals achieved. He works hard at the beginning of the year to understand the goals, break them down into quarterly targets, figure out if he has the resources and prepares, much like a colonel preparing for war, to achieve the goals.

But, once the year has begun, Sankar wears a different hat — that of a sacrificial leader. It is not important for him who, in his team gets the spotlight or a seat at the most special tables at the workplace.

In fact, he consciously works towards enabling his subordinates to travel on important work and take his place at crucial meetings.

He has structured his meetings a little differently — the first fifteen minutes are devoted to ‘altruism’ — or dedicated time to ask how he can help the others. He takes notes and discusses how he can help them remove roadblocks from their work life.

Sankar reviews himself regarding what all he can give up. His objective is to give up symbols of prestige and power wherever he can. He sets aside time to role model, coach and lead. He knows that his goals will be best achieved when he keeps the team happy, cared for.

When there is a dinner at a 5-star hotel when a top leader is visiting from the head office, he insists that he will attend only if he can take a junior team member along.

Sacrificial leadership hurts a lot. It hurts because the leader takes a back-seat. He gives up more than he gets. He may run the risk of being seen as a weak leader. But, in fact, it takes the strongest person actually to practice sacrificial leadership.