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Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Imagine that you’re trapped deep inside a cave with a crowd of strangers. They slowly mill around you, transfixed by a bizarre sort of slide show projected onto the far wall. To your amazement, they seem to have no interest in leaving this gloomy dungeon.

You walk among them, urging them to escape the darkness of their self-enforced imprisonment, but their apathy is impenetrable.

Reality for them consists only of the images of light and shadow that play eerily across the wall in front of them. It’s hard to believe, but they seem quite satisfied with their lives in this make-believe world.

You alone escape this place. Fighting your way up the near-vertical rock face, you slip and fall repeatedly. Battered, bleeding, and bruised, you finally make it out of the cave, and into the light of the real world.

The good news is that you are finally free; the bad news is that your challenge has just begun. You must re-enter the cave and force its lethargic captives to leave the familiarity of the world they know and emerge from the cave with you.

The Allegory As It Applies To Leadership

The “Allegory of the Cave” is a story that is almost as old as humanity itself. It is documented in Plato’s book The Republic which provides the cornerstone for Western philosophy.

In this book, Plato describes a place that we all sometimes inhabit – the cave.

The “Allegory of the Cave” teaches us something fundamental, something that is universally true in life, and in leadership: that it is sometimes tough to leave the safety of our comfort zones.

We become our own worst enemies. We get rooted in the spot where we stand; we see unreality as reality, and the result is we move into our comfort zone.

Good leaders understand that change – leaving our comfort zone – can be most unpleasant, but in terms of survival in a fiercely competitive world, it’s frequently necessary.

Leaders are typically more out of their comfort zone than in it due to the work they are required to do. Leadership is not easy, but totally worth the work put into becoming a great leader.

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