A Cup of Hot Chocolate

As the Olympics start Friday night, we will see many athletes in their glory.  Win or lose, they made it to London and can always call themselves Olympians.  What we won’t see is all the sacrifices it took to get there. Leadership in sports or business requires sacrifice. Today’s posting describes these sacrifices and some ways to prepare for them.

A Cup of Hot Chocolate

 The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.

Charles Du Bos

Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.

H. L. Hunt

In this life we get only those things for which we hunt, for which we strive, and for which we are willing to sacrifice.

George Matthew Adams

I had just spoken at a Disney Leadership Conference when a young manager walked up to me. He introduced himself and said, “I don’t expect that you remember me, but I worked at Epcot. I am a manager today because you gave me a cup of hot chocolate.” My puzzled look encouraged him to continue with his story. “It was Christmas Eve and I had completed my night shift as the park closed. You were in the Cast hallway handing out cookies and cups of hot chocolate to the Cast Members as they were leaving. I knew you had young children, and that you had given up Christmas Eve with your kids to serve your Cast Members that night. I decided then that if that is what Disney leaders do, I wanted to be a Disney leader.”

When many people look at leaders, they see the rewards of leadership—status, power, money, and privileges. Those rewards often motivate people to pursue leadership roles and “climb the corporate ladder.” However, many don’t recognize the sacrifices required in leadership. As I talk with aspiring leaders, I challenge them to ask the hard question of “Are you willing to make the sacrifices required to be a great leader?”

These sacrifices are immense. If you want to be a successful leader, you better be prepared to sacrifice. Oftentimes, your day will start when others are going home. You will be on call for customers, bosses, and your subordinates. Weekends become reserved for completing the work that was not finished during the week. You may need to move across the country or around the world. You will miss your children’s games and other events. You will endure extreme stress, frustrating days and sleepless nights. As much as you might try to manage “work/life balance,” you will face prolonged periods of imbalance when work is all consuming.

If you want to keep moving up, the choices become more and more difficult, as the increasing needs of your organization conflict with the increasing needs of your family. Oftentimes, these conflicting needs cause leaders to make poor choices that impact their companies and their families unnecessarily.

There are steps you can take as a leader to confront the issue of sacrifice. You need to recognize and commit to the sacrifice involved to attain great leadership, similar to the sacrifice required to become a great athlete. Professional athletes and Olympic champions know that the work is intense and long, while glory is fleeting. They commit, usually early in life, to excel in their sport, knowing that many other areas of life will have a lower priority. They also recognize that, despite their best efforts, they may not make the team, or could get injured before rising to prominence. Their families—parents, spouses, children—understand and accept the requirements and also commit to support them in their efforts.

Leaders in other areas need to make these same commitments and have the same understandings with their families. There should also be open discussions about limits. For the first thirteen years of my career, my wife and I were willing to move almost anywhere and at any time. We ended up moving eleven times in those thirteen years. Shortly after I started to work for Disney in Orlando, I was asked if I would move to California, for our twelfth move in fourteen years. With a three-year-old son and twin one-year-old daughters, my wife (justifiably) said no, and I agreed. During my twelve years at Disney, I was asked to move to France, California (several times), Tokyo and Hong Kong. The timing was not right from either a family standpoint (especially when my children were in high school) or due to community activities that I was leading. As I look back, it is clear that my career would have benefited from some of these moves. However, my family would have been impacted negatively. Leaders who don’t set limits often make decisions they later regret, especially with regard to their spouses and families.

Leadership is a noble calling, with high rewards, but also high demands. If you aspire to lead, be prepared to sacrifice.

Action Points

• Recognize that leadership requires sacrifice, and the higher you wish to lead, the more you will have to sacrifice.

• Ensure you are committed to make leadership a priority, and that your family will support you.

• Be willing to set limits, especially as they relate to your family.


A full commitment to excel as a leader, open communication, and no regrets later in life


This posting comes from Chapter Forty in The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence.  To find out more about the book and get a 20% discount, go to www.thesurpassinglife.com.


1 Comment
  1. Good Day, Brad & Lee,

    re: “Make your work environment fun.”

    I teach occasionally in Lyon, France to undergraduate students who are mostly French but also from Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, among other countries. The class is great fun for me in that I witness first-hand how different cultures relate to various situations — we truly do not think alike — and the European world does not think like those of us from the U.S.

    At the conclusion of each class I take a picture of the group (everyone gets a copy) and I let the students have their say on the learning experience. One young lady from France made us all grin when she stated energetically: “Professors are not supposed to smile and laugh with students.” She was so happy that this experience was different from her other classes.

    Why is it that professors don’t make learning fun?


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