Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Leadership Sacrifice

In the season during which Charles Taylor was convicted of war crimes I found myself reading Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s autobiographical book, This Child Will Be Great with great interest.  In January 2006, Johnson was sworn in as president of the Republic of Liberia.

Some of her reflections on leadership and the sacrifice required are below:

I guess the debate is still on over whether leaders are born or made.  I’m frankly not sure how one develops the skills necessary to lead and lead well.  Leadership requires stamina.  It requires a whole lot of acceptance, the ability to remain committed to your cause and to have the courage of your convictions.  It requires understanding that sacrifices will have to be made–and the willingness to make them again and again and again.

The greatest sacrifice of all is putting everything important–the challenge, the needs, your own ideals and sense of responsibility–ahead of yourself.  In effect, to be a great leader is to sacrifice oneself, because if you ever stop to think about your own preservation, your own safety, and your own survival, you will immediately become constrained.  You will cease to act, or to act in the best interests of those you are leading.  To be a great leader means to get to a place where personal considerations and needs become secondary to the achievement of your goal.  That is the greatest sacrifice you can make, but that is precisely what leadership demands.”

This Child Will be Great, p. 309


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