• Adam Tarnow

A Leader's Enemy

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

I'm addicted to a drug. As far as I can tell, it started twenty-four years ago. I'm an addict, however, so I wouldn't necessarily trust that number. The real number is probably worse.

I've got all the signs of an addiction. One hit of my drug is never enough. I always want more. I'll lose sleep, spend money, and ignore people all to find and use my drug. My drug has changed my life for the better. I promise.

What's my drug of choice? Pithy statements. Helpful sentences. Moments of clarity. I'm addicted to ah-ha moments. That's my drug.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Adam, you're a nerd. That's not a real drug." You're right. It's not a real drug. That's why I said this drug has made my life better, not worse. Real or not, this drug still has a grip on my life.

Why this drug? For years, I had no way to answer this question. Then, on February 28, 2020, it hit me. I now know why I love this drug so much. I understand why I've given myself over to this addiction. I see why I will never try to ween myself off this drug. I know why I can say you might be an addict too.

I was on Southwest Flight #1304 from Dallas to Atlanta. The flight departed on-time at 6:00 am. My moment of insight came at around 7:20 am. I was 35,000 feet above Alabama.

I was reading a book by one of my favorite drug dealers. Steven Pressfield's Do The Work! I love Mr. Pressfield's books. His writing intoxicates me.

On page sixty, Pressfield quoted legendary basketball coach Pat Riley. Pressfield describes why doing important work can be so tricky. According to Pressfield, the reason we don't accomplish essential tasks is that we give into forces from within and forces from without. This quote from Pat Riley supports his "forces from without" argument:

Pat Riley, when he was coach of the Lakers, had a term for all those off-court forces, like fame and ego (not to mention crazed fans, the press, agents, sponsors, and ex-wives), that worked against the players’ chances for on-court success. He called these forces ‘peripheral opponents.'

I underlined the term "peripheral opponents." I also wrote in the margin, "Really well said." That's what I do when I get a hit of my drug. When the drug starts to flow through me, I always memorialize it. I never want to forget the feeling.

But then I did something different. I don't know why but I stopped. I stared at the phrase I had written in the margin. I asked myself, "Why do helpful statements feel so good?"

At that moment, I realized why I love my drug so much. Useful statements bring order to chaos. That's the intoxication I feel when I get my drug. I'm addicted to order. I love the feeling of chaos vanishing and order beginning to rein.

Order is my drug of choice. Every book. Every podcast. Every audiobook. Every TED Talk. Every NPR interview. Every conversation with my boss. All of those offer one massive bit of hope: order.

I don't think I'm alone. I think you're an addict too. Order is what we all crave. It's what we all want. I'm an addict, and so are you.

You see, there is a lot about life that that isn't right. Most of us are surrounded by chaos every day.

· An uncertain future.

· Broken printers.

· Sketchy internet connections during a Zoom meeting.

· Employees who annoy us.

· Spouses who misunderstand.

· Predictions that keep changing.

· Commercials before YouTube videos.

· Kids who get sick.

· Parents who get cancer.

· Viruses that just pop-up.

Nothing is easy. Everything is hard. Nothing is a gift. Everything takes effort.

Chaos surrounds us. He rules—all the time. Life often seems cloudy. Foggy. Uncertain.

And we all hate it. You hate it. I hate it. No one likes chaos. We long for chaos to vanish. We want order to reign.

Then, in the middle of this longing, we hear something. A word from a friend. A statement from someone on a podcast. A sentence in a book. Occasionally, our desperate hearts hear something, and for that brief moment, chaos vanishes and order reigns.

In those moments, we feel hope. It's in those moments; we begin to realize life is not haphazard. It's in those moments we realize there is some order to this world.

The moments when chaos vanishes all have one thing in common: a leader. Chaos never disappears on its own volition. It only vanishes when a leader steps up. It vanishes when a leader brings order.

When Steven Pressfield writes, he leads. He brings order by the use of his words. He shares ideas that make sense of the chaotic world. His leadership makes my life easier. He looks chaos in the face, and fearlessly brings order. That's what leaders do. They bring order.

The enemy of leadership is chaos. Chaos is a terror. He thrives on this earth. He wants to destroy you, and he wants to destroy me. Chaos loves it when confused people lose hope. He loves it when people give up.

Why does chaos thrive? It's simple. Chaos thrives when leadership doesn't.

Leaders are bringers of order. They are purveyors of hope. They are warriors who look chaos straight in the eye, without fear.

A leader's primary job is to fight chaos; to bring order. Leading is hard. It is so much easier to let chaos reign. It's easier to give up. However, leaders aren't into easy. Leaders reject easy. Thus, leaders fight.

This battle between leaders and chaos is life's high drama. Life's great excitement is not what the Kardashians will do next. Life's high drama is the battle against chaos.

Leadership is dramatic. All around the world, people are confused. All around the world, chaos is winning. People everywhere are waiting for someone to do something. People are waiting for a leader to step up and bring order.

You, leader, are needed. Your job is to bring order. This job matters. Engage in the battle.


[1] Photo credit Allstate. Mayhem is Chaos' best friend. They've known each other since 2nd grade.

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