What would you do if you had an “army” at your service?

by Jack on February 2010

Imagine for a moment that you had an army of one thousand people at your service. I don’t mean a military force specifically, although you could certainly use them that way. Instead, I mean a large number of people, living at or close by where you live. These people are completely devoted to you and will follow your orders – to the best of their ability – without question.

With a thousand people willing to do whatever you say, your influence in the city or town around you would be leveraged considerably. What kind of things would you have them do? What would your goals be? You can think big – after all, you have the tireless labor of a thousand obedient followers at your disposal.

Please pause for a few minutes, think about this question as realistically as possible, and write about five or ten specific things that you would have your “army” work on.

Would you turn into a selfish cult leader and have them go to work, bring you all of their earnings, and buy yourself a big house, a fleet of Bentleys, and private aircraft? (It’s been done before!) Would you use your army as a criminal gang and take over drug distribution in your city? Or would you direct your army to serve the community around you and improve things in your neighborhood or in the world overall? You can choose wisely or foolishly – you’re the undisputed leader! There are no right or wrong answers in this exercise – nothing would bring your followers greater joy than to help you out by performing exactly what you ask them to do. Regardless of what path you choose, being a leader can be hard, and is a lot of responsibility.

So here’s the key question. These tasks that you would have your army do, are you currently working on them? If so, great! If not, why not?

If they’re good enough goals that you would give orders for someone else to get them done, then aren’t they good enough for you to work on, personally, right now? You have the power to do these things and make a difference, to make changes in your world and the world around you – right now!

Organization and logistics

Let’s make the example a little bit more realistic by considering some leadership and management questions.

How would you organize your army? Would you micromanage the details or search for leadership talent in order to empower others to organize and self-organize? Will your army be structured as a command-and-control hierarchy, a loose network of semi-autonomous cells, or an amorphous and completely disorganized blob? It’s hard to manage 1000 direct reports and still have time to eat and sleep, so this is a very important question for a leader to consider.

How would you motivate your army? Of course, in this thought experiment, we have short circuited the question because we are considering the unlikely case of a thousand unquestioning, devoted followers. In the real world, however, incentives and compensation for time and effort are very big factors. Even so, you might want to consider how you might keep your army happy – would you have “employee of the month” awards? Work one-on-one with the most creative and best performing “soldiers” to provide them with more responsibility and autonomy? Give financial bonuses or extra free time to the best performers?

How sustainable are the efforts of your army? Do your “soldiers” work twelve, eight, or four hours a day? Are people required to serve when they are sick, depressed, or grieving, or do they have time off from their mandatory service to do other things of interest in their life?

What would your style of communication and leadership be? Would you be a collaborative leader, with the goal of placing your soldiers in positions that would align with their skills and interests? Or would you act as a tyrant, with all decision making power resting with you, and accepting no questions or discussion?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, only consequences. As the leader, the consequences ultimately come back to rest with you, so choose wisely.

Bringing the example back to earth

The things you would like most for your army to do, will almost certainly be be the things that you consider most important to ‘get done’ in the world. They will represent the way in which you want to see the world change. And… (drumroll) they will represent the way in which you want to change the world but feel like you might not have the power to do so on your own. The exercise, at a literal level, asks what you would do if your power in society were leveraged up 1000x over what an individual person, acting alone, could do.

More importantly, it examines your personal relationship to power and authority over others. Would you indulge your desires to dominate and exercise power over others, with no explanation other than “because I can, and shut up now”? Would you give all your power away with a shrug of the shoulders and an “I dunno, umm… you army guys can just go do whatever you like, I guess”? Or would your application of power be more nuanced and situational. Again, no right or wrong, just feedback.

What were the key end goals that your army was aimed at? Bringing money and influence into your life situation? Amusing and entertaining others? Improving the world around you? Promoting a religion, political viewpoint, or philosophy? Confusing people and causing chaos? When you identify these goals, then you identify some of your own goals.

How could you actually get others to rally behind some of these goals? Are they something that an army of people might actually want to see completed? Or are they of little or no interest or value to anyone else? (Fun Fact: “make myself wealthy and buy toys” is generally a goal that no one except you and possibly some of your immediate family care about. It is only ever accomplished by creating significant value for other people first.)

What emotions and thoughts arise within your body and mind when you think of having the power to direct 1000 completely dedicated servants? Are they positive? Negative? How does it feel to have significant responsibility over the actions and results of a group’s efforts?

Pick a specific task that you asked your army to do, that you could take action on doing, individually, within the next 24 hours. Could you get started on it? Would you?

Could you experiment with a different style of leadership from the style you elicited from yourself in playing with this question? How do you currently “command” yourself to do things? (e.g. when you have an important task with a deadline)

This exercise is fun because it takes you out of your own head when thinking about your goals. Often, when we plan our future actions, we think of our own influence in isolation, without considering what we might accomplish if we enlisted the support of others.

So in the future some time, when you are seated at your desk in a comfortable chair, visualizing, planning, or mind mapping some of your goals, ask yourself: WWMAD? What Would My Army Do?

And listen to the answers. 🙂


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