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A leader's heart, servant leadership by example

By Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) James Hendrick | JBER Staff Chaplain | Feb. 26, 2015


The "Chaplain's Corner" offers perspectives to enhance spiritual/religious resiliency in support of Air Force and Army Comprehensive Fitness programs.

Comments regarding specific beliefs, practices, or behaviors are strictly those of the author and do not convey  endorsement by the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, the Army, the Air Force, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or the 673d Air Base Wing.

Leadership is absolutely essential for the Department of Defense and its mission. Without it, we lack the ability to muster people and resources effectively to protect our cherished liberties and way of life.

That said, I believe leadership has a broader scope and is required for all of life's categories no matter your rank or status.

For me, leadership is the ability to internally motivate people, through relational trust, to accomplish or sustain righteous goals and objectives. I believe this definition requires the leader to be defined by security, integrity, selflessness, and compassion - all of which foster relational trust.

Without these character traits, followership is typically defined by necessity, external controls, or maybe fear, which only reduces the potential of both leader and follower.

From my perspective, effective leadership requires the authentic value of people and their betterment, especially when accountability and discipline is required.

Leadership guru John Maxwell describes this best when he states, "People don't care what you know until they know that you care."
From the Christian tradition, Jesus modeled this approach by washing the feet of his followers, which reinforced his teaching, "The greatest among you will be your servant."

Additionally, the Apostle Paul, recorded in the Christian Bible, directs, "Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too."
One of my favorite patriotic examples of this leadership 'heart-set' is found in one of my son's Civil Air Patrol leadership manuals. It gives an account, I'll summarize for brevity.

'Picture a primitive country road leading through the wilderness to a river where a dozen Soldiers are working hard to build a bridge with insufficient manpower. It's 1776 and the Revolutionary War is underway.

'Picture now an impressive looking man approaching on a fine stallion and asking the weary workers, "You don't have enough men for the job, do you?"
'In reply, the lieutenant in charge states, "No, the men will need a lot more help if we are to finish the bridge on time."

"I see," replies the man from his horse. "Why aren't you helping the men?  I notice you're just standing back watching them work."

"That, sir, is because I am an officer!" snaps the lieutenant. "I lead, I don't do."

"Indeed," says the mounted man. At this point he dismounts his horse, rolls up his sleeves and works under the hot sun with the men for hours.
'Upon completion he remounts his horse and says to the lieutenant, "The next time you have too much work and not enough men, the next time you are too important or high ranking or proud to work, send for the commander-in chief and I will come again."

The distinguished man was Gen. George Washington. The impression he left for servant leadership is timeless.

Life requires leadership. What defines yours? What would your family, your team, and your subordinates say?

Maybe the more important question is, what defines your character that clarifies and communicates your value of people?

The answer to that question is essential in that your character will determine the level of 'motivated trust' that people will give you in followership, unless motivated by a higher purpose.

Whatever role we play in life may we consider our hearts and their value of people - even those very different from us.

I believe our leadership potential is determined by it. Or as Oswald Sanders states: "True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing men to one's service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them."