burn the ships

Burn the Boats – The Toughest Leadership Command

We all like Plan “B” options that afford us an 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?

What Cortés did was force himself and his men to either succeed or die. A retreat was not an option.

In order to achieve the highest level of success we each desire, there are times when we need to “burn the boats.”

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

The Security Blanket

When my oldest grandson was three he had his favorite blanket he drug everywhere. It was his actual security blanket. We joked about whether he’d abandon it by the time he’s ready for high school graduation. I’m kidding of course, but how silly would that look? A handsome 18 year old walking the stage at graduation with this tattered and well-worn blanket tucked under his arm.

Ironically, plenty of people hang on to some form of security blanket or ‘ship’.

Here are the big ones to think about:

Your current job –  Yes, you may be hanging on to that lousy job because you need the security of it; the actual financial security. The thought of gambling away a sure thing by trying to get a new job is terrifying. While the thoughts of security may be logical and practical, are they holding you back from achieving something even greater? Are you in the right place for advancing? Are there real long-term opportunities where you are right now? Do you like your boss?

Your field of employment – Does a career change make more sense? Does the area of expertise where you work serve a sense of fulfillment for you? Are you proud of the work you do? Do the challenges you imagine facing excite you or discourage you? Perhaps a new direction is best.

Your comfort zone –  This is a big one. What would it look like to have to step outside of your comfort zone every day? Have you gotten too comfortable in the comfort zone? Falling back into that zone every day is just like getting back on the ship that brought you here. You know, the one you need to be burning.

Bad relationships –  It’s funny to me how many folks stay in bad relationships, business or otherwise. There’s a thought that you have a certain amount of time or money invested, so you hate to walk away, even though all indications are negative. If the other person or party is not meeting you halfway, you, my friend are in a bad relationship.

Set the Torch

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.

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 a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Leaders Lead

So back to Captain Cortés and your work team. If you are the supervisor 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 ever 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.

Share some ways you have eliminated the escape hatches where you work. If you’d like to talk to a Coach, click the image below to set up a call. No charge. 


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