Lead through sacrifice. Throw yourself under the bus

It’s amazing how quickly things can go to hell.

It all started at the project kick off on Monday, the team was discussing the project scope, governance and the sponsor started to comment on the goals.

“We’re here to consolidate the teams, boost productivity and ultimately, make it easier for employees to better serve our customers.”

OK. No worries! Sounds like a good idea!

Yet there was a scratching thought. What exactly does that mean?

I parked that thought, it should all become clear when the team digs into the project.

The project progressed, we became more comfortable and started making progress….or so it seemed.

The weekly meeting rolled around, yet it was as if we were all in separate meetings. No-one was clear on what exactly was required, the high level goals were fine but they lacked the clarity for the next level of direction.

Our path suddenly became terribly hazy, the team became tense, the project stalled in the detail and we’d lost sight of what actually needed to get done.

Ring any bells?


We appealed to the higher level goals which helped us along the path but they were still too fuzzy to provide us the clarity we needed.

Then the realisation hit.

We were stuck because we didn’t know what was actually required and no-one wanted to admit that.

It’s extremely hard to accept, let alone admit, that you don’t know how to do your job as you will feel stupid and question your own credibility.

Nevertheless, we had to get answers and deliver. But how?

We needed a martyr, someone who would throw themselves under the bus for the good of the team.


One item holding us back was the uncertainty and differing opinions on the priorities of which teams were to be migrated in the first release.

That’s when it was thrown out there:

“Sophia, am I correct in saying the Internal Field Support team will be migrated in the next release?”

This was met with a blank face and a look of surprise.

“What?! No, they are to be migrated in the second release.”


There it was! The tip of the clarity iceberg.

From there the digging continued and we walked out with a clear understanding of the next steps.

We were back!


That one simple, seemingly stupid question started the chain reaction to remove the uncertainty.

On reflection though it wasn’t just a simple question at all, it was a purposeful sacrifice to achieve clarity.

Was it admitting we didn’t know something we should have? Yes!

Did the question seem stupid? Yes!

Did Sophia think the answer was obvious? Yes!

Yet, did it force clarity and allow the team to progress? YES!!


Ambiguity and uncertainty is all to common and the gap between a vision and the implementation is usually gaping.

Here’s how we got there and ways to force clarity where none exists.

Sacrifice yourself

Step up and be the leader, throw yourself under the bus and get the answers.

Push your ego aside and accept the temporary hit to your confidence, its more than repaid with the clarity that ensues.

It’s worth checking out Simon Sinek’s long but great talk on this – Why Leaders Eat Last

Force the issue by stating a fallacy

By doing so you’re either forcing people to correct you or agreed with you.

You need a straight answer – a yes or no – so ask a closed, painfully clear question.

Be direct and do NOT soften it. Instead of “…so I guess that means we may be migrating company X next week. Yeah?” try asking “… Will Company X be migrated next week?”

Direct it at an individual

Don’t let it get lost or ignored, it must be clear who needs to respond.

Do NOT mislead – State a fallacy NOT a lie

You’re after clear direction so don’t pollute it any further.

Remember its for the team, do not be malicious or push your own agenda.

It is risky, you will feel stupid yet by sacrificing yourself you’ll get the clarity you need.

The temporary hit is more than paid back by the direction that is provided to the team.


One thought on “Lead through sacrifice. Throw yourself under the bus

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