The center tent in the camp - the Commander's Tent - is often the largest, most spacious, most well-guarded, and the center of attention.
A lot of people see that, and want it.
They say, "I want the largest tent."
They say, "I want the most spacious tent."
They say, "I want the most security."
They say, "I want to be the center of attention."
But they've got it entirely backwards.
Command - at least, good command - winds up in the center tent after having cultivated the ability to serve their entire side's needs, and thus the commander winds up taking up the burden of command on him. His quarters are the largest to accommodate a variety of messengers, dignitaries, and officers. The high security is because if command is destroyed, the army is likely to collapse and everyone is doomed.
You come into the center of attention by being the most worthy to lead, and leading well. That gets you the center tent.
But -- and here's the damnest thing about it -- command is lonely, a burden few understand, and fewer still would want if they understood it. Most of the greatest leaders in history, if you actually read their private papers and sayings, were grateful for the ability to move the world forwards, but also highlight a certain feeling of burden that few can or would try to understand.
And yet -- the philosophical, action-oriented person who has the ability to lead, often starts leading. People build around them. Their quarters expand to accommodate more visitors, and slowly the camp becomes ordered around command.
Saying -- "Ah! The center! Yes, that looks nice!" misses the point. There's no chance of reaching it, if you think like that. Rather, you begin to serve, and serve well, you train and discipline yourself, you take care of everyone's needs. And then you wind up at the center of things, with all the good and ill that entails.
Perhaps the best leaders lead not because they wish to, but because they must, or because they feel compelled to.
Wow! Great post. Too many people put the cart before the horse. I've recently observed the misguided thinking in myself. Thanks Sebastian!
Great content as usual seb. Something I miss about the old design was the search bar. With blogs I read I'm a fan of archived content and I never remember the name of the post so I usually type in keywords I remember to find it. Something you might want to bring back.
People seem to want a lot of things :)
It always blows my mind when I witness people's perspectives that contain such disconnects between purpose and appearance as you outline here.
I believe the point also runs into the general malaise of people wishing for all the power and none of the associated responsibility and feeling entitled to it and being surprised when it "doesn't work that way".
To take the point even a little further, those with such a mental disconnect may universally be unhappy as they never reach the goal posts of success, and they don't even understand why. TV could be blamed or something...
Great point Seb. I love how you turn the standard view of what a leader is on its head by reminding us that they got there by serving rather than leading.
Good questions from a reader -
There are some questions I want to ask you about the shogun era.
Why didn't the generals around Tokugawa Ieyasu aim for more power?
What were their end game?
A couple months ago I was minding my own business, reading a book, about to go to sleep. I give twitter one last check on my phone and see a message from my friend Jenna telling me of a deal to go to Lima, Peru for $380 round trip. I have no particular reason to go to Peru, but I decide to start booking it and make the decision as I go through the steps. The deal is about to go-- it's disappearing from different booking sites one by one. Hey, might as well go, I think. For how long? Well, I can't think of anything off the top of my head in Peru besides Machu Picchu (which I already decided I had to see before I died), so I play it safe and book eight days, figuring that will give me enough time for Machu Picchu and maybe one or two other things.
After booking, I begin to do a little research. The thing to do is the Inca trail, which is a four day hike from the Cusco area to Machu Picchu. You have to go with a tour group, and you have to book far in advance. I booked too late for that. The standard alternative is the Salkantay trek, which is typically a five day trek. It's harder than Inca and has better natural scenery, but no ruins along the way and doesn't lead directly to Machu Picchu like Inca does. I try to find a good tour group going there, but none of the published dates fit into my short window in Peru. Fine, I think, I'll just go solo.
I order a lightweight tent, sleeping bag, and mattress pad, and that's the extent of my planning for over a month. With a week before I leave, I figure I ought to see if I need train or bus tickets. That's when I learn that Cusco is almost 24 hours away from Lima by bus, and that getting to the trail from Cusco takes several hours as well. Long story short, it looks impossible for me to Salkantay. But I've had it in my head for a month now that I'm going to do it, so I don't give up easily. Finally I find a way I can take a bus to Arequipa near the end, and then take a flight from there to Lima just in time to catch my flight. The problem is that this leaves me only about 3 days to do the trek, and less than 24 hours to acclimatize.
A week later, my trip begins. I'm overjoyed when my tent stakes make it through TSA security. Actually getting to the hiking trail is contingent on several fairly unlikely assumptions, the first of which is that the titanium stakes will make it through. The flight to Lima is long, but I somehow manage to get an exit row seat to Panama, and a whole row to myself to Lima. I get the best plane sleep I've ever had.