The Best Leaders Aren’t Heroes

I’ll never forget my first day of Basic Training. I reported to 1/34 Infantry Battalion for nine weeks of formation. One of the tools that the Army uses to bring the unit together is to create a battalion slogan. Our slogan was, “Always forward.” Every time we saluted, came to attention, and stood as a unit, we would say that slogan. Every. Single. Time.

I probably said that slogan over 1,000 times. Now that I am many years removed from Basic Training, I often think about that slogan as it pertains to leadership.

As a leader, I sometimes want to move forward. I want to tackle the next objective. I want to be the one who moves the organization forward. In every part of my inner being, I want to move forward.

Here is the problem: You can’t lead if there is no one following.

Leaders can be heroic, but they can’t be heroes -- meaning that in order to be a true leader, you must keep your followers close enough to see the way forward. It means that sometimes “always forward” has to wait till everyone on the team is clear about what forward looks like.

Heroes can move forward single-handedly, in the moment, to try to save the world for the moment.

Leaders bring people along with them, teaching them, mentoring them, serving them. Leaders try to save the world for generations.

Don’t be a hero, be a leader.