In O. Henry’s classic Christmas story, “The Gift of the Magi” Mr. James Dillingham (‘Young Jim’) and his wife, Della, are a couple living in a modest apartment. They have only two possessions between them in which they take pride: Della’s beautiful long, flowing hair, almost to her knees, and Jim’s shiny gold watch, which had belonged to his father and grandfather. On Christmas Eve, with only $1.87 in hand, and desperate to find a gift for Jim, Della sells her hair for $20 to a nearby hairdresser named Madame Sofronie, and eventually finds a platinum pocket watch fob chain for Jim’s watch for $21. Satisfied with the perfect gift for Jim, Della runs home and begins to prepare pork chops for dinner.

At 7 o’clock, Della sits at a table near the door, waiting for Jim to come home. Unusually late, Jim walks in and immediately stops short at the sight of Della, who had previously prayed that she was still pretty to Jim. Della then admits to Jim that she sold her hair to buy him his present. Jim gives Della her present – an assortment of expensive hair accessories (referred to as “The Combs”), useless now that her hair is short. Della then shows Jim the chain she bought for him, to which Jim says he sold his watch to get the money to buy her combs. Although Jim and Della are now left with gifts that neither one can use, they realize how far they are willing to go for each other.

It illustrates the personal nature of genuine leadership and followership: mutual commitment, connection and selflessness.

Most of what matters in leadership is about the followers and one of the attributes most valued is that of selflessness in their leaders and organizations.  People instinctively recognize, appreciate, and hold dear those who place the interests of others ahead of their own.  It is the acid test of a willingness to “do the right thing(s)” for the organization/business and mission when leaders demonstrate by actions (not merely words) that their own benefits and advantages are of lesser importance than the greater good of the enterprise, its mission, and the employees.  Selflessness is synonymous with self-sacrifice, self-denial, compassion, kindness, nobility, generosity, charity, and benevolence, the epitome of virtue that define character, honor, and moral strength, inspiring reciprocal actions and behaviors.

“Maybe this was what love meant after all: sacrifice and selflessness. It did not mean hearts and flowers and a happy ending, but the knowledge that another’s well-being is more important than one’s own.”  Melissa de la Cruz, Lost in Time

A lesson leaders would do well to learn.

Self-sacrifice- Defer rewards and bonuses for senior management in order to provide for your employees. Those at the bottom of the organization generally work the hardest and are the least compensated.

Self-denial- Ensure your subordinates needs are met before your own. This is not only about the rewards but also the essentials materials and resources needed to execute a job. When the new IT upgrade begins, start at the lowest levels and work your way to the “C” Suites.

Compassion- It starts with empathy for with those who work for you. Get out of the office, talk with employees, ask them how they are doing, about their families, how you can help them, on the job and in their personal lives.

Generosity- Always give back to that those who work for you. Medical emergencies, deaths in your employee families are examples of ways to help. And your time is just as valuable as anything you can buy.

Charity – Contribute back to the greater community around you and encourage it in the company. Business is important but there’s a bigger picture.

Many thanks, Keith Stalder, #15

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