“True heroism is remarkably sober, very un-dramatic. It is not the courage to surpass others at whatever cost, but the courage to serve others at whatever the cost.”
Arthur Ashe (1943-1993)
Holy Week commemorates the sacrificial passion of Jesus Christ. His crucifixion marks a historical occurrence that, arguably, has had a greater enduring impact on humanity than any other religious deed. While at lesser yet varied degrees, all gestures of sacrifice exact both cost and benefit. In the end, however, religion, business, politics and, in fact, all of society greatly benefits from such acts of self-negation.
What gives sacrifice such influential power? And what does it mean to be a leader who is willing to sacrifice his/her own needs and desires for the benefit of his/her constituents and for the greater good of humanity.
In the game of baseball the word sacrifice refers to a fly ball or bunt that allows one or more players to advance at the expense of another. It is one of the more noble acts in all of sports. While most of the time the batter is thrown out, the player is celebrated for his willingness to give up his turn at the plate for the benefit of the team. This is known as a sacrifice hit, a tactic that first occurred in 1880!
Leadership, like baseball, requires the wood of sacrificial intentions to effect great and noble accomplishments! Mature leaders realize that there are times when it is necessary to set aside personal egos and agendas and willingly surrender extra time, money, and, more importantly, themselves to invest in something or someone that will produce a greater return later on.
What spiritual, intellectual and lifestyle patterns characterize such honorable individuals? Generally speaking, the word sacrifice is used to describe the selfless good deeds done for others. Self-sacrifice is the only way to truly serve. It is the ability to crucify self-centeredness by willingly focusing on the essentials of other people. True sacrifice, however, is not dysfunctional or self-effacing. Genuine sacrificial leaders do not think less of themselves but, rather, think of themselves and their personal needs less often and with more honesty!
In his book, Good to Great (2001), Jim Collins describes great leaders as “plow horses not show horses.” In other words, nothing useful occurs in business, education, politics, or faith, without the ability to serve others with sacrificial humility. Here, there are no shortcuts to triumph. We fail to reach our potential when we are unable or unwilling to pay such a price.
Machiavelli once stated that, “it is far safer to be feared than loved.” The impact of a simple carpenter over and above a powerful and most-feared empire masterfully disproves the usefulness of such a self-centered admonition. Collins and other leadership experts correctly rebuke Machiavellian-like philosophies of power and position by asserting a difference between wanting to “be” a leader and wanting to “share” leadership. While all may desire the mantel, not everyone has what it takes to sacrifice and, thereby, earn a leadership role.
While hard work is a key characteristic of successful leaders, diligence should not rely on domination, intimidation, or bribery. On the contrary, leading through sacrifice is based on the sincerity of the person and not on ambition, authority, or prestige. Appropriate influential qualities of sacrificial personalities include:
- Belief that one can prevail despite obstacles
- Singular focus, determination and adherence to responsibility
- Willingness to pay a personal price to ensure long-lasting results
- Desire to carve out a path that enables others to safely follow
- Ability to drop everything for the betterment of others
- Skill to console and improve the behavior of others through compassion
- Willingness to forfeit professional advancement
- Resilient heroism
In counter-opposition to Machiavelli, Scripture proffers a much different view of leadership – one that recommends love instead of the intimidating power of fear. Accordingly, the Greek (thesea) and Hebrew (korban) words for sacrifice express the nuances of offering, approach, and relational love. As such, the one sacrificing is not understood as being deprived but actually enlarged or blessed by his/her gesture. More importantly, an item or action that is sacrificed is often characterized by Scripture and the writings of the Holy Church Fathers as actually being more valuable than the same item/action selfishly retained.
In the end, Christian leaders should give pause during tomorrow’s Holy Friday observances and reflect upon the greatest sacrificial act in history, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While the primary implement of Holy Week and baseball share a common sapling source, the Wood of the Holy Cross should remind all leaders of the primary duty and responsibility of their noble office. Leadership is, above all, about heroic love, compassion and sacrifice! The scriptural admonition of Saint John the Apostle provides a powerful framework for such deliberate contemplation: “Greater love can not be found, than to be willing to sacrifice your life for your friends” (John 15:13).