In late 1864 Union General William T. Sherman marched into Atlanta, crippling the southern war economy. The practical effect was massive but so was the psychological impact, and not just on southerners: Abraham Lincoln would ride the resulting wave of public confidence into his second term as President.

As Ron Chernow describes in the excellent biography Grant, this is how General Grant congratulated Sherman: 

"You have accomplished the most gigantic undertaking given to any General in this War and with a skill and ability that will be acknowledged in history as unsurpassed if not un-equalled. It gives me as much pleasure to record this in your favor as it would in favor of any living man, myself included."

Keep in mind Grant could have hogged at least some of the credit. After all, he was Sherman's boss, he developed the overall blueprint for Sherman's campaign -- and he kept the Army of Northern Virginia pinned down in Richmond and Petersburg, making it impossible for Lee to send reinforcements to Georgia.

But he didn't -- because great leaders always shine the spotlight on others.

In response, Sherman said: 

"I have always felt that you personally take more pleasure in my success than in your own, and I appreciate the feeling to its fullest extent."

That's what great leaders do. They make the people they lead feel like they, not the boss, are the most important people. Great leaders aren't served; great leaders serve.

That's why every great leader makes the same decision.

As NBA Hall of Fame Bill Walton says, success at the highest level in basketball comes down to one question: "Can you make the choice that your happiness can come from someone else's success?"

That's true for great teammates.

That's especially true for great leaders.

If you can decide that your happiness -- and your success -- will come from seeing the people around you succeed, then you've taken one of the most important steps towards becoming a great leader.

No one has qualities like courage, vision, charisma, adaptability, and decisiveness in equal measure.

But every great leader does make that one decision--and so can you.

Published on: Nov 1, 2017
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