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Bursts of Color - The Lieutenant and the Sergeant

Bursts of Color - The Lieutenant and the Sergeant
By Geoff Donaker • Issue #63 • View online
I’ve recently enjoyed reading the books of Derek B Miller, whose fiction and style remind me of Fredrik Backman. Miller’s latest is How to Find Your Way in the Dark, from which the following passage captured my imagination.

The officer who stood in front of them was barely older than Abe and looked younger on account of his fair skin and slender shoulders.
To his right was a giant of a man, a towering oaf who cast a shadow with his brow. They learned that the giant’s name was Gallagher.
“This is Sergeant Gallagher,” said the lieutenant, whose last name turned out to be Clive. “Sergeant Gallagher has served in the RCAF for fourteen years starting in 1927. He has flown over the Arctic, the Atlantic and survived not one but two crashes. His search-and-rescue flight teams have saved twenty-seven sailors and aviators. He is our rock.”
“I, on the other hand, was commissioned as a second lieutenant three weeks ago. I have never seen combat. I have never rescued anyone, killed anyone, or been wet for a sustained period of time. I am also short and weak. I have nothing on Sergeant Gallagher except rank, youth and beauty. Sergeant,” he said, turning to the expressionless mass on his right, “drop and give me twenty.”
The old aviator dropped to the ground and counted off twenty push-ups.
“Rank outranks experience,” said Lieutenant Clive. “We follow the chain of command. No one knows this better than men with experience. We do it because people above us know the big picture. Not because they’re smarter or better than we are, although they might be. We all play our parts to make the machine work, and if we don’t, it isn’t a machine.”
Abe found the honesty of all this clarifying. It also worked on his brain in a way he could understand.
How Is This Relevant to Start-Ups?
Business is not the military: rarely are lives at stake when we don’t follow the chain of command. Nonetheless, things do tend to work better when we all play our assigned roles. Most of us have also lived some version of this story in start-up land. We’ve been that young lieutenant, trying to live up to a stretch leadership role for which we felt (and may have even been!) unqualified. We may also have been the more accomplished sergeant, trying to calmly accept an officer’s direction without rolling our eyes. May we all learn to operate with the grace and good humor of these two!
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Geoff Donaker

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