If You Ain’t First, You’re Last

By | July 28, 2019

[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.


  1. https://www.theleadermaker.com/never-underestimate-the-competition/
  2. Senior leaders must behave in such a way as to remove all doubt about their good intentions and motivations.
  3. https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/optimizing-army-recruiting/


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “If You Ain’t First, You’re Last

  1. Forrest Gump

    Even the tortious won the race against the hare.

    1. Len Jakosky

      An old theme but a true theme in what we humans do.

    2. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      As a person who works in the field of commercial production, I read the book when it came out and liked what this book by Grant Cardone says. Buy it, read it, study it. Grant Cardone knows of what he speaks.

  2. Janna Faulkner

    Great article. This is why the U.S., Canada, and so many nations of the West are so successful both economically and politically. Competition works!

    1. Walter H.

      Hello. I’m new to Mr. Satterfield’s leader blog. I agree with the sentiments written. Janna, I like your comment and think you are right about the importance of competition in our governments.

  3. Max Foster

    I’m glad that I came to your website this morning to read about ‘competition.’ Too many of us are quick to shrug off the idea that competition is good for us. That is a dangerous game. As humans, we are programmed to compete. When we deny that, we are setting ourselves us for failure that will affect not just us but our families and our communities.

    1. Harry B. Donner

      Good comment, Max about how we are ‘programmed’ for competition. I agree. Just look at a group of little boys or girls and you will see that competition manifested in many ways. Just pay attention to what they say and do. Competition is in their play and is something they enjoy.

    2. José Luis Rodriguez

      Thanks all for making excellent points about us humans! I too believe that any system that denies our human nature is doomed to fail.

      1. Tracey Brockman

        This is why, I think, that socialism (as an economic, social, and political system) will always fail. It might not fail everyone but it fails most of those who live under it.

    3. Nick Lighthouse

      Thanks Max for another truly spot-on comment. Competition works for the betterment of all.

    4. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      Max. There are many who will disagree that competition is an inborn trait. I think we have a both an innate and learned competitive spirit.

  4. Army Captain

    There is no runner up or second place in combat with the nation’s enemies.

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