A few years ago, I went through an officer training program to eventually become an Air Force chaplain. The training involved physical activity, as one might expect, but it also included leadership classes. These classes taught that leaders need to be honest and humble and show humanity, and that good leaders recognize and utilize their team members’ strengths and delegate tasks appropriately.
I saw this as a great place to start in understanding leadership; but I was and am especially grateful for the idea Christian Science brings out that true leadership is about following God. As we humbly listen to God and learn more of our true nature as the spiritual offspring of God, then we better reflect the qualities of God’s leading in our lives. These qualities include trustworthiness, strength, mercy, wisdom, and grace.
During my officer training, my flight commander repeatedly told me that I was not a good leader. After the training was complete, my fellow chaplain candidates and I traveled to six bases over the course of seven weeks to engage in more specific chaplain training, where I was unexpectedly appointed leader of a flight of 14 people.
On my first day as flight leader, I asked a fellow member of my flight to do something. Another individual cut in and said that it didn’t actually need to be done. I seemed to be in a battle of wills. I later received advice that I would need to be tougher and show domination in order to lead effectively, but that just didn’t feel right to me.
That evening, I called an experienced Christian Science military chaplain for support. He reminded me that we can allow leadership to be defined by God rather than by human concepts. Jesus was outstanding at bringing out the best in his followers, but it was never by putting others down and dominating them, or trying to force them to be obedient. Jesus lived according to his deep communion with God, which enabled him to heal and lift people out of discouragement, fear, disease, and pain. The Christian Science chaplain encouraged me to demonstrate generosity, honesty, and love for my flight members.
In the textbook of Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy lists a number of moral and spiritual qualities that could be applied to leadership (see pp. 115-116). The moral qualities move thought away from materialistic qualities that drag a person down; they are listed as “humanity, honesty, affection, compassion, hope, faith, meekness, temperance.” These qualities, in turn, lead one higher to express spiritual qualities that in reality make up everyone’s true nature as God’s creation, such as “wisdom, purity, spiritual understanding, spiritual power, love, health, holiness.”
The expression of spiritual qualities, inspired by the understanding that everyone has a God-given nature to express them, can, by example, nourish others’ growth and help give shape to their desire to be of service to others.
For the first week, I gathered all 14 of my flight members together every morning and told them that I understood how tough a summer it was for us all, but added that I would work for each individual’s success throughout the training and was available for support any time they needed it. I offered an inspired idea to think about for the day and communicated clearly our leadership’s expectations for us.
What looked on the first day like the most disorganized and conflicted flight very quickly became the strongest and most supportive group of chaplain candidates, able to handle and resolve all kinds of challenges. At the end of the summer, I won a flight leadership award, and I am happy that nearly all of those 14 individuals have now gone on, successfully, to become chaplains.
By choosing to follow God, through honest, consecrated prayer and listening humbly to God, we naturally begin to reflect spiritual qualities such as strength and trustworthiness. In my case, following God meant not letting the prevailing human theories convince me that domination or weakness were my only two options for how to go forward as a leader. Praying, listening to, and following God and His Christ, Truth, enables us to demonstrate loving, inspired, grace-filled leadership.
Adapted from an article published in the Feb. 2018 issue of The Christian Science Journal.