[April 24, 2020] Leadership means going into dark places no one wants to see. Those are the places where one must go if we are to succeed and where fear is greatest, but also where the brave dwell. That is the mark of a real leader, one who summons the courage to go places others surely fear.
An old sergeant, Vietnam vet and mentor, told me this when I was first commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He was a bit of an oddity to me. I saw him as old fashioned and out of date, too rough and crude, quick to violence, and a menace to his combat soldiers. What I failed to see when I looked at his outer shell was that this sergeant would be the way to my understanding of what it means to be a real leader.
“What you want to find is to be found where you least want to find it.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson, University of Toronto
Like the dragon that hoards valuable gold, leadership means getting the job done (the gold), but it also includes many risks (the dragon). The dragon and the gold story is a meta-story, one that goes back in time since the beginning of humans. We desperately want the gold, but the dragon continually stands in the way.
To get the dragon’s gold, we must travel to the dragon’s lair and grab what we can as quickly as we can. Our ancestors told these stories, perhaps in different ways, but this story is retold over and over. What they were telling us, to use modern language, was that leaders are those willing to confront reality head-on and that our worth and image of ourselves is tied up in that conflict.
The metaphorical dragon pushes us to our limits. You don’t get those things we want without the danger. Fear, hesitation, anxiety, self-interests, responsibilities, and a host of like obstacles litter our path to reach for the gold. The story of Pinocchio tells us the same meta-story but with different characters.
We all remember the story of Pinocchio when he knows that he must go down to the bottom of the ocean to find the whale that swallowed his father, Geppetto. Pinocchio jumps off the cliff with a stone tied to his leg; downward, he drifts to the ocean floor. And there he finds “Monstro” an enormous whale. His task is to confront the whale and be reunited with Geppetto. Pinocchio has a scheme to save his father, but after getting out, the enraged Monstro chases them, but they both escape.