The Wall

I‘ve been trying to think about the idea of Sincerity. Specifically how sincerity relates to being a leader. You can talk all day long about what you’re going to do, but until people see you doing it, they won’t believe you.

Or believe in you…

Have you ever heard of the term “lead by example?”

Leading by example is surely the best way to be a great leader. But to do that you have to be truly sincere in your belief in what it is you’re doing…

There is a great story about sincerity — as it applies to Leadership from the book Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield.

The book is about Spartan warrior culture. He tells the story of King Leonidas and his 300 spartans who fought and died defending their homeland against what is said to have been thousands and thousands of Persian invaders.

There is a chapter about a lesser known part of the story; when the king and his army of 300 arrived at the spot where they would be having the battle the next day, there were remnants of what was once a defensive stone wall or battlement. The King ordered his men to rebuild the wall as quickly as they could so they could use it for themselves.

These guys knew that the overwhelming size of the invading Persian army, which numbered in the millions against the Spartans’ 300, would be rendered useless, because the width of the land at the pass of Thermopylae was much smaller, and would only allow a small portion of the Persians to present themselves at once time — thus the Spartans would be able to match man for man at any given time the Persians’ numbers. The trouble was there used to be a wall there, but it had been destroyed in a previous battle unbeknownst to the Spartans.

His captains and sergeants began to discuss and plan on the best way to rebuild it. One said that the wall should be as tall as two men, one said that it should be short but wide, while another argued that it should have firing positions for their bowmen. Meanwhile all the other Spartans just sat around and watched their leaders argue and fight over the “best” way to do it…

In seeing his men in disarray and lacking clear leadership, King Leonidas himself walked over to one of the piles of rocks and just started picking them up and pilling them back up to form a wall. When his Spartans saw what he was doing, they all cheered “AROO!” (which is the Spartan war cry) and they all fell into the work right along side their king. Every last one…

King Leonidas never stopped, even when he saw his men working and as the pile started to resemble a real wall he said to them;

Nothing too fancy, men. For a wall of stone will not preserve us, but a wall of warriors shall.

If you truly believe in what you are doing then show those around you that you sincerely believe it is the right way to do it by acting on it instead of just talking about it.

Aim to inspire first and you will win the battle whatever it may be.

This is that great passage about leadership from the book Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield so you can read it as written here. It picks up a rather crucial moment when the 300 lead by King Leonidas arrive at the famous pass of Thermopylae known as the “Hot Gates”.

Simultaneously work was begun on rebuilding the ancient Phokian Wall which blocked the narrows [of Thermopylae]. This fortification, when the Spartans arrived, was little more than a pile of rubble. Leonidas demanded a proper battle wall.

A wry scene ensued as various engineers and draughtsmen of the allied militias assembled in solemn council to survey the site and propose architectural alternatives. Torches had been positioned to light the Narrows, diagrams were sketched in the dirt; one of the captains of the militia produced a drawn-to-scale blue-print. Now the commanders began wrangling. The wall should be erected right at the Narrows, blocking the pass. No, suggested another, better it would be set back fifty meters, creating a “triangle of death” between the cliffs and the battle wall. A third captain urged a setback distance of twice that, giving the infantry room to mass and maneuver. Meanwhile the troops loitered about, offering their own sage counsel and wisdom…

King Leonidas simply picked up a boulder and marched to a spot. There he set the stone in place. He lifted a second and placed it beside the first. The men looked on dumbly as their commander in chief, whom all could see was well past sixty, stooped to seize a third boulder. Someone barked: “How long do you imbeciles intend to stand by, gaping? Will you wait all night while the king builds the wall himself?”

With a cheer the troops fell to. Nor did Leonidas cease from his exertions when he saw other hands joined to labor, but continued alongside the men as the pile of stones began to rise into a legitimate fortress. “Nothing too fancy, brothers,” the king guided the construction. “For a wall of stone will not preserve us, but a wall of men.”

What I find most inspiring is that leading isn’t about telling people what to do, being the one in charge, or simply authoring all the plans. It’s about doing first so that others can see and learn.

Setting the example for your team. Keeping the bar high, by your own personally displayed example of work and ethics. It is one thing to have a ton of experience and share that with the people you work with or work for you but it’s another thing entirely to sit back while others labor and toss out direction without the implication that you are willing and able to dig in too.

**Originally published here on Medium.