What if Someone on Your Team Died
I heard (Ret.) General Dempsey, the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talking about leadership at the World LEADERS Group. He struggled with what to say to soldiers who had lost a comrade in arms.
What would you say to your team if one of them died?
(General Dempsey in front of the green screen in the interview room.)
When you attend a funeral, you probably say something like, “I’m sorry for your loss.” But what does a leader say?
Dempsey said, I woke up in the middle of the night with three words in my mind. “Make it Matter.” From that point on, he looked soldiers in the eye, shook their hands, and said three simple words, “Make it Matter.”
Past – Present – Future:
“I’m sorry for your loss,” is appropriate for our friends, but leaders say more. General Dempsey couldn’t say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It seems to diminish the value of lives given in service to their country.
He couldn’t say, “I’m thankful they gave their life.” That feels trite.
“Make it matter,” speaks to the past, present, and future. It makes me feel like rising up.
Can you stand before your team and say, “Make it matter?” Perhaps you’re engaged in trivial matters. “Make it Matter,” seems inappropriate.
Test your activities with, “Make it matter.”
Do more of what matters.
Rise to, “Make it matter”:
- How will you matter today?
- How will you define what matters?
- How will you communicate what matters?
Energy goes up when your activities matter and down when they don’t.
Leaders call people to do things that matter. Don’t waste your time. Don’t squander the commitment of your team. Bullet and bombs may not be in your day-to-day experience. That’s not an excuse to live for trivialities.
No one gets out of this journey alive. Make it matter.
How might leaders make it matter?
Powerful message. Outstanding post.
There’s a movie called “In Time” that has a society built on time being used as currency. It’s an excellent concept that reminds us that seconds matter. Hours can be a luxury. Don’t waste them.
Thanks Dianna. I watched the movie you reference. It wasn’t too popular, but I’m with you. I love the idea that we view the ultimate currency as time.
Great perspective today. Loved “Bullet and bombs may not be in your day-to-day experience. That’s not an excuse to live for trivialities.No one gets out of this journey alive. Make it matter.”
Thank you Ginger. Isn’t it a shame that sometimes we forget that we matter?
Your timing is incredible. This post is what I needed to make that 1 degree shift to have a huge impact. Such power in simplicity.
How will you matter today? – This question can turn a day – a year – a life around. A way to keep us from forgetting that we matter. Who do we come in contact with that needs to hear this? Who in our environment can this be the timely life preserver for? The ladder lowered that will empower them to rise from the depths of despair? The 5 words that might change the course/focus of their life?
How will I matter today? That question inspires the best in me to surface and to take action.
Thanks Leanna. I felt the power of the question as I heard General Dempsey. Thank you for taking time to share your insights.
One of the important tasks of a leader (yes, I did very much I was a ‘leader of Effective Learning’ – facilitating my students’ efforts to develop and apply the appropriate skills) is to enable intrinsic motivation for their team. And the greatest book for me at least on this topic is “Drive” by Dan Pink. His three elements of the ideal environment – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – to stimulate Intrinsic Motivation are so obvious… No one can motivate anyone (just as no one can teach anyone). All we can do is provide the environment – motivating, facilitating learning!!! We all must self-assess routinely and encourage others to do the same, to insure we MAKE IT MATTER.
Thanks for another important post we all need to Consider…
Thanks John. I’m with you. I think the term “motivate” should be eliminated from leadership. Leaders can inspire others by speaking to purpose. Motivation, in the traditional sense, is manipulation.
Your comment is encouraging to me. It’s inspirational. 🙂
PS … Drive is awesome!
From the leaders perspective “Everyone matters”, in a team environment! In a “Loner” environment only the leader matters. To rank what matters most can be complicated for sure in the sense of the armed forces “all lives matter”, doing what matters based on tasks at hand required to accomplish something that matters to someone but not to everyone from a civil standpoint! “Strive to make a difference in a positive sense” would be something that matters to me
Thanks Tim. Another way to say this is, “Add value to people,” or, “Meet a pressing need.” All we have to do is get our of ourselves and live with an open heart and hand.
Thank you, Tim, for taking time to add your comments on a regular basis.
Something that I learned in the Marine Corps…everyone does matter…..I did a few funeral details for our fallen comrades and their lives do matter because they did make a difference in the world that we live
Thank you for your service, Bob. Best wishes
What a terrific post! It very much speaks to being (and remaining) present with your team. Easier said than done…but thank you for a great reminder today.
Thanks Tom. I’m glad you brought the idea of presence to the conversation. We can’t make it matter until we’re actually present. Gen. Dempsey said, I looked them in the eye and said, “Make it matter.” That’s presence.
You are so right on. In this country we are on a kick saying whose lives matter. I am sorry but all lives of all colors matter. I have dealt with a number of co-workers and 1 of my employees that died in the line of duty. Being able to say “this person made a difference in the world” helps a lot. We all want to say that we made a difference or we make it matter. Sad to say so many just get through life and never try to make a difference. As a supervisor we need to spend more time getting those who are coming behind us ready to take over and by doing that we make our lives matter.
Thanks Walt. Yes! One way to matter is to develop leaders. In my view, it’s one of the most important things we do. Your insights speak to me.
Dan, your timing is amazing! I chuckled to myself when I saw the email with today’s topic. Intentionally or not, today is Employee Appreciation Day. And today I see “What if someone on your team died”. Then I read your post and was blown away (no pun intended)! Even more underscoring on Employee Appreciation Day… Make it matter – for everyone!!!
Thanks Cheryl. You added a wonderful perspective to this conversation. Thank you for stopping in again and sharing your insights.
Leaders need to buy into what they claim matters and motivate at least one influential person to do the same.
Great piece with a profound backdrop for perspective. Every day we have a choice about priorities and activities. “Make it matter” is so concise and effective it sticks.
This is such an important conversation. I did work in a small organization that lost one of its owners quickly and tragically. We were a small family and it was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. We dealt as best we could. The best advice I can offer is to talk about it, talk about it and keep talking about it. Also bring a licensed counselor in to do one or more group sessions to debrief the incident or experience. Even if people say they don’t need it or want it it is imperative. Thank you for bringing this to the forefront.
Great post and appreciate all of the comments. I like to view what matters through the lens of our mission statement – if something doesn’t help us live out that mission statement, is it worth our time and efforts?
If you value people only to the point of how they fit into your mission statement then no they don’t matter. If the employs figure out that they don’t matter then they wont care to help you meet your mission statement. I have worked where it was all about the bottom line and the attitude was “there are 100 people who want and can do your job”. It was the worst place I ever work and no one but the owners cared about the mission. The only thing that mattered was to get as much money out of the company before they left. People matter above all else but that is just my opinion.
So Dan, I did have one of my staff pass away while working for me. I was asked to speak more than once. There is no leadership book on how to help your team cope and muddle through the loss of someone they worked next to for many years. I tried, and now when I look back, i hope I expressed that it mattered. I remember as we were dedicating a sitting area where she would spend time that I tried to express that she made it matter and that made it easier for us. To this day that is one of the hardest periods of time I had as a leader. We moved on but it was hard. Thank you for this post today and reminding me to take the time, in the middle of the exhaustion, to stop, rejoice and remember why we are in this. It’s because people matter – even the ones who drive as crazy at times.
Great post Dan! What will I do today to “Make it matter!”? What about tomorrow? What about this week? Each of us have one life to live. What will we do with the opportunity that we have been given to make a difference?
I led a team through the loss of their former manager, my predecessor in the role. I learned many great lessons from that experience. 1) Give them time and space to grieve, as a group. Yes, we have to be productive at work, but broken-hearted people will be very unproductive. Grieving is an essential step to healing. 2) After the initial grief, I noticed that the team really focused on the things they learned from her, almost as a way to honor her. It was a pleasure to see them call those things out, and then work to share them with younger members of the team who hadn’t worked with her. As a leader, it was important to shine the spotlight on those learnings and experiences because they meant so much to the people who worked for her.
That period of grieving slowed us down for a while, but the team bonded in an indelible way, and ultimately became extraordinarily effective and productive, achieving goals way beyond my expectations.