[May 11, 2017] You’ve been there! Your boss wants something done right away and a coworker is right there to “help” you … putting obstacles in your way at every step. Good leaders, it should be emphasized, thrive on obstacles in their path because they have the foresight and confidence to overcome them.
In the Spring of 2004, the 1st Cavalry Division Engineers were given the mission to conduct a bridge crossing of the Tigris River to allow better access into the northeastern part of Baghdad. A major offensive was about to take place to clear the area of insurgents and militias (for more on the Iraq Spring fighting, see link here). A key to the success of one of the Task Forces was a river crossing for a surprise strike. The timeline was tight and terrain difficult but the bureaucratic obstacles were the real problem.
I was told the Iraqi local government in the city had to approve the bridge emplacement (this seemed dubious but I went along with it). Not only was this an operational security problem by informing the Iraqis in advance but the typical approval process could easily take over six months; we had less than a week. It was like our side’s leadership in the vast Coalition conglomeration didn’t want us to succeed.
How obstacles are handled makes for effective leadership. People see leaders, their facial expressions and body language, hear what they say and how it is said, and they know who leaders surround themselves with. These actions speak loudly about leader traits and ultimately about the professionalism that they must demonstrate.
“The block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak, becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong.” – Thomas Carlyle, Scottish philosopher
Yet, it is the epitome of great leadership to use an obstacle as a means to enhance goals in life rather than to block them. This is what it means when one does the unforeseen, unexpectedly overcoming tremendous odds, and becoming the most successful of all. Horatio Alger, Andrew Carnegie, Ralph Lauren, Oprah Winfrey, and John Rockefeller are all examples of those who did just that.
Yes, it is true that leaders build upon obstacles, never letting any kind of barrier get in their way. That is why giving excuses for failure shows a deep character flaw in those who aspire to leadership and why so many such leaders are rejected for it. We were able to get our bridge approved and that local Iraqi official and I remain friends to this day.
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