[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.