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?

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(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?