The Comfortable Leader

[June 1, 2019] There’s some old advice given to new military leaders (typically, just-commissioned officers) that goes something like this; you can’t become a good leader by being comfortable. Like the fictional character, Robinson Crusoe, who spends 28 years on a remote island, we’ve all encountered great challenges, obstacles, and people who want us to fail.

“It is better to have a lion at the head of an army of sheep, than a sheep at the head of an army of lions.” – Daniel Defoe, English trader, writer, pamphleteer, and spy

Daniel Defoe wrote the book, Robinson Crusoe (published 1719). Defoe wrote the book as an autobiography of the title character who encounters cannibals, captives, and mutineers, before ultimately being rescued. A keen observer of human nature, Defoe produced the popular storytelling of a person who survives a great disaster at sea and lives to tell about it.

We all respect such people; fictional or real. A comfortable leader is not someone any of us could identify. We all seem to intrinsically understand that it is the ‘journey’ that makes us who we are and what we will become. A leader, unchallenged is no real leader.

The U.S. Army Captain who led my platoon at our Fort Benning Basic Infantry Officer Course understood this. We never rested. Or so it seemed to me at the time. The heat, humidity, and danger were part of the crucible to strengthen our mettle and test our character. And, it certainly did. He told me that we had to “get out of our comfort zone to be a real leader.”

True leaders are never comfortable. They are always looking for ways to improve their team and themselves. They are prepared for any challenge and excel when put to the test. Comfort translates into complacency; the biggest threat to good leadership if there ever was one. Only the paranoid survive!

To this day, I thank those who gave me realistic advice that made a difference in my career in the U.S. Army. The best advice was that no good leader is comfortable; ever.

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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 “The Comfortable Leader

  1. Wilson Cox

    Hi Gen. Satterfield. I just got my computer fixed and am back on. Great article.

  2. Bryan Lee

    The “comfortable leader” really does not exist unless it’s in name only. As a junior team leader back a few decades ago, I had a company officer tell me that the day I get comfortable (can’t remember the exact word but this was his meaning) is the day complacency takes over and I am a failure. I never forget his meaning and today I believe I’m a better man for it.

  3. Watson Bell

    I just read your ‘daily favorites’ and I think you can apply much of this article to those written by Roger Kimball at the NY Post. Recommended reading for all our folks here.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      I agree, some interesting arguments why universities should be eliminated.

    2. Georgie M.

      We should all read these daily. If you are not doing so, I believe you are missing out on some important insights.

  4. Eric Coda

    At first I thought this leadership article would be about how leaders can be comfortable and I even found a few people who say leaders should be comfortable at what they do. Now I realize that is not the case. Be ‘outside your comfort zone’ will be the only thing that helps push you to better heights of leadership.

    1. JT Patterson

      Spot on comment which supports Gen. Satterfield’s belief that we can only be better if we are NOT comfortable.

  5. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

    I was unprepared to enter the workforce, not because I lacked the technical knowledge but because I lacked basic leadership skills. The problem was that I was overconfident and thought I had all that it took. I was comfortable. Only when I got out of my comfort zone did I really become a better leader and a better person.

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      Good point, Eddie. I too was comfortable with my abilities and found out the hard way that I was really unprepared. Reminds me of the young college students who believe they are morally superior to everyone else.

      1. Army Captain

        I think many of us found this out the hard way. I did. This is why having a mentor is so important.

    2. Martin Shiell

      Same here Eddie Ray. I worked in a canning factory when I was in high school and realized that this is something I did not want to do for the rest of my life. The pay was good but the working conditions were dangerous and not to my liking. I got out and went to a trade school and now am a plumber.

    1. Tony B. Custer

      Me too! I hope Gen. Satterfield keeps up this leadership website. It helps keep me focused and up on the basics of leadership.

    2. Xerxes I

      Same here and although I’m new to this blog, I keep coming back for the knowledge presented in an entertaining way.

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