Burn the Ships – Eliminate the Easy Out

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We all like Plan “B” options that afford us escape when things don’t work out. In 1519, Captain Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz to begin his great conquest. Upon arriving, he gave the order to his men to burn the ships. How’s that for bold leadership? As a leader, you must decide when and how to burn your own ships.


What Cortés did was force himself and his men to either succeed or die. A retreat was not an option. To truly achieve the level of success we each desire, there are times when we need to “burn the boats.”


The obvious question becomes “what are my ships”? For starters, your ship may be anything that you are afraid to let go of.

My three-year-old grandson has his favorite blanket he drags everywhere. It is his actual security blanket. We hope he abandons it by the time he’s ready for high school graduation, but maybe he won’t. I’m kidding of course, but how silly would that look? A handsome 18 year old walking the stage at graduation with this tattered, filthy, and well-worn blanket tucked under his arm.

What are they?

Ironically, plenty of people hang on to some form of security blanket or ‘ship’. Here are the big ones:

  • Your current job –  Yes, you may be hanging on to that lousy job because you need the security of it; the actual financial security. While those reasons may be logical and practical, are they holding you back from achieving something even greater?
  • Your field of employment – Does a career change make more sense? Are you drained by the thought of challenges in any other position within your industry?
  • Your comfort zone –  This is a big one. What would it look like to have to step outside of your comfort zone every day? Falling back into that zone is just like the ship you should probably burn.
  • Wrong relationships –  It’s sadly funny how many folks stay in bad relationships, business or otherwise. There’s a thought that you have time or money invested, so you hate to walk away, even though all indications are negative.

Are you willing to burn a ship? That means eliminating the escape hatch, safety valve, or parachute. As comforting as having such an escape may be, there are times when you have to get rid of the escape mechanism so that you proceed without fear, doubt, or skepticism.

Having the escape plan gives you the chance to make a half-hearted attempt to succeed, knowing all the while that at the first sign of trouble you can pull the ripcord and make the escape.

The Easy Way Out

Sadly, I’ve known too many couples who enter into marriage with a stated position that “if it doesn’t work out, we can always get a divorce”. While I am not a legalist on the topic of divorce, I do believe that making that option too easy is a sure fire way to make it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So back to Captain Cortés and your work team. If you are the leader of your team, what ships have been docked nearby that will allow your whole team to escape if things start going wrong? Have you, as their leader found ways to make it clear that the ships have been burned?

Being the leader and giving the command to burn the ships may be the toughest command you give. I’m guessing Cortés slept with one eye open for quite some time after he first gave the order and watched the ships go up in flames. You too may suffer from the fear of the team’s reaction to the command, but it may be the best thing you could ever do for them.

[reminder]Share some ways you have eliminated the escape hatches where you work.[/reminder]