The Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor caught the U.S. military completely off guard. Months after the bombing in Hawaii, the U.S. military was still reeling and on its heels. American citizens were shocked by their country’s vulnerability as the Japanese brought the fight to them.
Confidence in the U.S. military’s ability to respond was low, as was the country’s morale. Enter the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, a group of 80 volunteers who helped change the tide of World War II. On April 18, 1942, just four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders volunteered to fly the first bombing raid over mainland Japan.
When the planes took off on their mission, the Raiders had no idea whether they would succeed. They were attempting to do something never done before in planes not designed to fly the distance they would need to cover on the fuel they could hold. Everything about the mission was a calculated risk, yet they volunteered to go.
The bombing raid did not do significant damage to Japan, but it achieved its goal of raising American morale and caused the Japanese military leaders to shift resources to defend their homeland. At tremendous risk to themselves—three of the 80 Raiders were killed, and others were captured—these men volunteered for a mission whose main goal was to lift their country’s morale.
The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders believed in the greater good. They were willing to sacrifice their lives to provide their country with a much-needed boost in morale. And a bombing raid that did little significant physical damage to Japan managed to help change the tide of the war.
As a manager, you must consider the greater good. There are times when you must make personal sacrifices because it’s best for the team. There are times when you must choose between what’s best for an individual member of the team and what’s best for the entire team. There may even come a time when you must choose to do what’s best for the company at the expense of your own team. It’s not a responsibility that should be taken lightly because it’s not an easy burden to carry.
This responsibility can take many forms. For instance, you might have a team member who isn’t carrying his weight. The overall team continues to perform, but it’s clear to everyone that this individual’s efforts and contributions are less than adequate. Other members of the team have to pick up the slack he is creating, working extra hours to cover for his shortcomings. Yet the team’s performance is strong, so there’s no urgency to deal with the weak link.
Despite your repeated attempts to help this person improve his performance, your assistance and prodding don’t seem to make a difference as his performance continues to be subpar. It becomes apparent that the best thing to do for the team would be to part ways with this individual. Of course, unemployment may not be what’s best for him. You’re faced with having to make a choice between what is best for the individual and what is best for the overall team. You must consider the greater good, but that doesn’t make it an easy decision. In fact, the easy thing to do would be to ignore the individual’s lack of performance since the team has been able to overcome it.
But like so many things, individual decisions to ignore difficult situations begin to add up. What happens when you have a second team member who begins to fall short of expectations? What do you do when the other team members begin to resent the guy who isn’t carrying his weight and the team’s performance begins to suffer? Your inability to make sacrifices for the greater good suddenly is putting the entire team in jeopardy.
As a manager, you’re going to find yourself in situations where you need to consider what is best for the greatest number of people. There are going to be times when you are going to face difficult decisions in which your responsibilities require you to look beyond what is best for you, one individual on your team, or even your entire team to do what is best for the greatest number of people. It’s not a fun place to find yourself, but it’s also not a responsibility you can avoid if you want to be a successful leader.