My brother and I shared a room growing up, and our closet held a few random pieces of military uniforms inherited from family members who had served in the armed forces. The most popular was the Air Force dress uniform hat. My brother wore it, mostly, because he was the oldest boy in the neighbourhood, so he was the general. The general was never short of orders for his loyal troops. He graciously helped us advance from lowly privates through rank after gratifying rank by having us climb walls, run obstacle courses, and complete drills. We obeyed enthusiastically, and proudly wore the rank pins we bought for ourselves from the Army surplus store. We dug trenches. We built hidden fortresses in the forest. We spent our days outside rearranging red clay and fallen trees, scraping our knees and conquering our fears, all for the general. We never questioned his authority. We never thought to ask him why he never had to earn his own rank. The sun was shining, morale was high, and there was always another challenge to work towards.
Years later, the general became a patrol leader in our Boy Scout troop. Our patrol was formed out of the newer, younger boys, without any of the star athletes or the guys who were into body building. When it came time for competitions, nobody expected much from us—except our patrol leader. He fully believed we could win, and he made us believe it, too. We pushed ourselves harder than we thought possible, and we did it willingly, enthusiastically, because our leader knew we could.
He was right. We did win. A lot. Even better, we discovered that we could do more, together, than we realised. And we could have a great time doing it, too. My brother showed us a vision of what was possible, and his confidence gave us the confidence to make it come true. I’ve heard that the best leaders bring out the best in others, and I believe that. Better yet, I’ve seen it in my brother, the general.