Positive Leadership and the Role of Sacrifice

One of my partners shared a story of a man he is close too.  I will call him Steve.  He was a mid-level manager in a plant for many years.  When the plant manager was removed, Steve was asked to become the interim leader.  In the meantime, the plant was acquired by a new company.  Steve ended up staying in the role for five years.  Bringing positive leadership to the organization, he elevated the culture and he dramatically improved profit.

The parent company began to close plants.  Steve’s plant was on the target list, but because of Steve’s success, they decided to delay closing the plant, they moved it to the bottom of the list.  Then things got worse and the decision was made to close the plant.  It was Steve’s assignment, over a year, to fire all the people.

It was a wrenching process.  Yet instead of minimizing his pain and psychologically distancing himself, Steve did the opposite, he practiced empathy.  Steve’s employees knew he didn’t want to lay them off. They knew he was doing everything he could to help them through their transition.  It was this positive leadership that kept the plant functioning at a high level over a year when performance should have collapsed.  It took a toll; Steve indicated he never wanted to go through it again.

Yet this declaration leaves me with a question, if Steve was forced to do another such downsizing, how would he do it?  Would he distance himself?  My opinion is a definite no.  Positive leadership is hard, it requires personal sacrifice. When we finally move from manager to positive leader, we become willing to sacrifice for the common good.  It becomes part of who we are and it accounts for why the culture changes.  To sacrifice is to make sacred.  When a leader leads from love the culture changes and relationships flourish, even in the darkest of times – especially in the darkest of times.



  • Why does positive leadership often cause an increase in profit?
  • Why does positive leadership often require sacrifice?
  • Why does sacrifice often transform relationships?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



2 comments on “Positive Leadership and the Role of Sacrifice

  1. It is difficult for me to view this as a form of positive leadership. Jerry Harvey viewed the psychology of the leaders in a downsizing as similar to the mindset of prison guards in concentration camps. Essentially the leaders in a downsizing are colluding in the result if people’s jobs and lives being impacted negatively and deeply. I’d like to think that positive leadership is better than this.

    1. Thank you. I think Jerry Harvey was right. The conventional manager in a downsizing is doing positive harm because, to protect self, they distance the people they are letting go. They collude in turning the people into objects to be acted upon. The positive leader does something the conventional manager cannot do, he or she provides genuine concern and suffers with the people. Most of us believe it to be an impossible task. For most it is.

Leave a Reply