Would your team march across a scorching desert to help you reach a goal?

One of the most important and most difficult things we must do as leaders is to motivate and create loyalty in the people we lead.

Many leaders try to solve this through talking. But pep talks are the five-hour energy drinks of motivation. They fire people up for a bit, then wear off. And as with caffeine, your team builds up a tolerance to your “come-to-Jesus” talks. They get less and less effective.

But there is another way.

More than anything else, leaders who demonstrate selflessness towards their teams foster loyalty. If you want people to work hard and sacrifice for you, you’ve got to sacrifice for them first.

****

My favorite story about Alexander the Great illustrates this perfectly. It comes from Steven Pressfield’s book The Warrior Ethos.

“Once, Alexander was leading his army through a waterless desert. The column was strung out for miles, with men and horses suffering terribly from thirst.

“Suddenly, a detachment of scouts came galloping back to the king. They had found a small spring and had managed to fill up a helmet with water. They rushed to Alexander and presented this to him. The army held in place, watching. Every man’s eye was fixed upon his commander.

“Alexander thanked his scouts for bringing him this gift, then, without touching a drop, he lifted the helmet and poured the precious liquid into the sand.

“At once, a great cheer ascended, rolling like thunder from one end of the column to the other. A man was heard to say, ‘With a king like this to lead us, no force on earth can stand against us.’”

Now, that’s what I’m talking about. A king who refused to quench his own thirst while his men still suffered.

If you want to create a remarkable organization, your people have to know that you would pour your water into the sand for them.

****

One of my clients is the CEO of a large moving company. He hadn’t been on a moving job in ten years, but last year, started going out once a month and actually doing moves with his crews.

Another client, an executive for a technology company, started taking a different employee out to lunch once a week to get to know them better.

Both of them saw transformation happen as their employees began to see that their boss really cared about them and thought they and the work they did were important.

A mentor of mine once told me “Jeremiah, treat every single person you meet as if they have a sign around their neck that reads ‘Make me feel important.” We all want to feel important. When you make us feel that way, you’re building loyalty.

The reason that selflessness and sacrifice foster loyalty is because they demonstrate love. Think about it. When you sacrifice your time, money, or effort for somebody, you are showing them that you love them.

None of us can cross the desert alone. We need the help of others. It’s time to start building loyalty.1

Think about the people who are important to you, at work, at home, in your life. How can you sacrifice something of yourself to show them that you care?