top of page
  • Dr. Jeff Doolittle

1 Surprising Leadership Lesson from the Worst Day of Life

The contemporary world needs a different kind of leader. In the Netflix series Medal of Honor, inspiring stories of heroic courage and grit from the battlefield are recreated. You quickly learn combat is not something great, and recipients of the nation's highest recognition don't seek it out. Although only one name is on the medal, it represents a team. You might expect that combat requires a fearless team leader and a shared motivation to hate others. However, these stories from the worst day of life reveal an unexpected lesson for today's business leaders to consider. Selfless love changes everyone and everything.

Rates of stress, anxiety, sadness, and anger are trending up in the workplace. Gallup found that 57% of US employees feel stressed daily in a recent survey. In speaking with frontline to c-suite leaders across various industries, one common theme is that the new normal is crisis-driven.

Medal of Honor stories remind us all of what has been done and is possible when leaders embrace selfless love in a crisis:

  • Selfless love creates remarkable courage that overcomes the fear of failure.

  • Selfless love unlocks potential in the leader and their team.

  • Selfless love delivers amazing results.

Overcoming The Fear of Failure

Fostering innovation within an organization is an increasingly important leadership behavior for every organization. Failure is not always bad, but an unhealthy fear of failure puts results at risk.

"On his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best. That's the nature of courage — not being unafraid but confronting fear and danger and performing in a selfless fashion. He showed his guts, he showed his training; how he would put it all on the line for his teammates." President Obama speaking of Medal of Honor recipient Captain Groberg

Fear minimizes experimentation and risk-taking, which impact innovation and change. The greater the fear of failure, the more likely an individual or organization will avoid taking necessary risks.

Selfless love creates remarkable courage that overcomes fear. When leaders practice selfless love, it creates safety where followers are more willing to take risks and be open with failures.

Selfless love does not imply that leaders ignore the fear of failure. Instead, they recognize the negative influence of fear and use it as an advantage.

Delivering Results and Maximizing Performance Potential

Too often, employees are treated like light bulbs. When they aren't working well, leaders look to replace them. A failure to maximize employee performance is a costly mistake.

Selfless love unlocks potential in the leader and their team, delivering amazing results and business growth. Love makes a better workplace and improves outcomes. It increases leader and follower commitment, increasing intrinsic motivation that amplifies workforce alignment and business strategy benefits. Increased intrinsic motivation causes people to do more and results in higher performance.

In addition to increased productivity of expected behavior, selfless love impacts an employee's discretionary effort, also known as organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). Discretionary effort is considered the penultimate type of performance in organizations. OCB as contributing to an organization beyond formal job requirements.

There's nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer. "— General James Doolittle, Medal of Honor Recipient

What is selfless love?

The meaning of selflessness is to be more concerned with the needs and desires of others than with your needs. One of the best definitions I have come across for love in the workplace comes from St. Thomas Aquinas.

"To love is to will the good of the other." St. Thomas Aquinas

If you have nine minutes, the following video captures the essence of the meaning behind the definition used by St. Thomas Aquinas. Although the video does not use a workplace example, the intent of willing the good of the other is shown.

A Leadership Style for the New Normal

Selfless love is uncommon in the workplace, and as the adage goes, what got us here will not get us there. It is vital for today's leaders to invest in their leadership development continually.

The current crisis-driven workplace serves as a validation test for espoused corporate values. Unfortunately, too many leaders and organizations are not weathering the test well. Although shareholder value is no longer the sole purpose of business, the Edelman Trust Barometer suggests that 72% of employees believe leaders will put business profits before them.

The costs of poor leadership often show up in the workplace disguised as low employee engagement, a lack of team cohesion and collaboration, high employee turnover, and failed execution.

Servant Leadership is a distinctly different leadership style described by the attribute of selfless love. Liz Thoephille suggested that to lead with the heart requires leaders to listen, show compassion, and ask for feedback.

Robert Greenleaf is attributed by most as the founder of servant leadership, described a servant leader as a servant first and used the following test to answer the question, what's servant leadership?

The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived. ~Greenleaf & Spears

The following short video from leadership expert Ken Blanchard provides some thoughts on the power of servant leadership in today's workplace.

Key Summary Points

  • The world needs a different kind of leader.

  • Selfless love is rare.

  • Selfless love changes everyone and everything.

  • Selfless love creates courage and overcomes the fear of failure

  • Selfless love unlocks potential in the leader and the organization

  • Selfless love delivers amazing business results

I challenge you to apply selfless love as a leader in the workplace and see your business results improve.

If you are unsure where or how to get started, consider our one-year leadership development program that provides insights into your inner and outer leadership game and proven tools that can fast-track your development. Based on the best ideas from the leadership gurus of today, leaders learn how to apply a head, heart, and hands approach to ancient principles that reinforce selfless service. This virtual or in-person program includes a pre/post leadership 360, pre/post leadership style inventory, and quarterly development workshops.

Are you ready to unlock your full leadership potential? Let's talk.


Becchetti, L., Castriota, S., & Tortia, E. C. (2013). Productivity, wages, and intrinsic motivations.

Gallup Workplace. (2021). State of the global workforce. Gallup.

Greenleaf, R. K., & Spears, L. C. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (25th-anniversary ed.).

Mulinge, P. (2018). ALTRUISM AND ALTRUISTIC LOVE: Intrinsic motivation for servant-leadership. The International Journal of Servant-Leadership, 12(1), 337-370.

Patterson, K. (2003, October 16). Servant leadership: A theoretical model [PDF].

Shu, C. (2015). The impact of intrinsic motivation on the effectiveness of leadership style towards work engagement.