[July 28, 2019] Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) is an American sports-racing comedy starring Will Ferrell. Competition in sports racing is fierce, as it is in most human endeavors.1 The title of this article is a quote from the film by Ferrell’s lead character, Ricky Bobby. The quote tells us something important.
Shortly after I was promoted to Brigadier General, I was sitting in a hotel in Washington D.C. with 10 other new General Officers (GOs) listening to official briefings on a variety of subjects. A senior JAG officer who worked in the General Officer’s Branch office told us that it was common for new GOs to get kicked out of the Army for a long list of misdeeds. As a cautionary warning, he said that “there are at least 100 colonels who are just waiting for you to screw up.”
A common theme is that new Generals had beaten the competition but were easily replaced. The competition from that point on was fierce but gentlemanly. I wondered to myself how could that be but who was I to question this bit of wisdom. Even the tortoise beat the hare in Aesop’s classic story.
Competition hones our skills because it motivates us to learn and do more to make ourselves better senior leaders. I had that outlook before I became an officer, and it was one of the reasons I put myself up for commissioning as a new Second Lieutenant and also why I chose Infantry as my primary job classification. To succeed, I’d already been warned, “stay out of trouble.”
Alas, some trouble gets you even when you’re not looking. People will accuse you of improper behavior, and investigations will start despite your complete innocence. The weaponization of investigations is nothing new. Fortunately, the U.S. military system of justice is usually quick to resolve such matters, and those who did nothing wrong will be exonerated. It’s all part of the competition.2
I enjoyed the movie Talladega Nights. It reminded me of what it’s like in a highly competitive environment; how you must be on top of your game to survive and how important the traits of integrity and honesty matter.
This morning, I was reading an article on how the U.S. Army is struggling to bring recruits into the service.3 A good economy and small labor pool make for many attractive alternatives to young men and women; making the military compete for the most talented people. That is good for our military and our national defense.
- Senior leaders must behave in such a way as to remove all doubt about their good intentions and motivations.