When Alexander the Great arrived on the shores of Persia his army was overwhelmingly outnumbered. Yet he gave the orders to his men to burn the boats. As their only means of retreat went up in flames, legend has it that Alexander turned to his men and said, “We go home in Persian ships, or we die”. Not quite the stirring Braveheart speech, but certainly motivational in it’s own way! What followed was an astounding victory over an army that was in many ways superior. Win or die. Simple.
I’m more comfortable being the “options guy”. I like knowing Plan B (and maybe C too). I want to have contingencies for the worst case scenario. I get some security from having an exit plan. And history is littered with examples of times when just such a retreat plan would have been wise.
There’s nothing like burning your boats to focus your mind on one thing, and one thing only- success. It’s extraordinary what we as leaders are capable of when we are in a corner, with no other option but to give our absolute best (and even beyond that).
I write this edition of The Leadership Coach from New York City. We moved here last week with our three kids under the age of 5. We’ve taken The Leadership Coach global (now with offices in New York and Sydney). Plus we’re launching our own not-for-profit, in the most expensive city in America during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. In other words we burned out boats. In poker terms we “went all in on the short stack”.
• How about you?
• What risks are you taking in your leadership that have put you and your team “all in”?
• Are your troops fighting with one eye on the battle, but the other on retreat?
• Is your desire for exit plans resulting in mediocre commitment?
Perhaps burning your boats is most important when the odds are already against you. There’s no “test and see” when you are outnumbered 5-to-1, you’ll waste what precious little resource you have. The only legitimate plan is to garner everything you have, and pit it against your competition in a way that circumvents their strength and leverages yours.
That requires 100% commitment. Really trying won’t do it. Giving it a shot won’t either. 100%.
“There is nothing impossible to him who will try”, Alexander the Great (circa 348 BC)
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