by LtCol Scott Frickenstein, USAF
Officers in the twenty-first century military face a constantly changing set of followers and situations—perhaps more than ever before in history.
One day, we’re leading a team to accomplish a mission in a certain context. The next day, we’re in a different situation with new followers to lead—stepping into the shoes of our now-deployed supervisor, Bible study leader, or colleague.
As Christian officers desiring to exercise biblical leadership—faced with constant flux and in the process of growing in our capacity to lead—how can we best prepare for our next leadership role?
I offer you three “looks.”
Taking a reflective pit stop is critical, especially at our Indy 500 pace. “Experience is the best teacher” is a common, but incorrect, adage. Leadership experts now attest that evaluated experience is the best teacher.
Here are a few questions to consider before you move to from one leadership role to the next:
- What went extremely well, and what was your part in making it go well? (What were you routinely complimented on by your superiors, peers, or subordinates?)
- What went poorly, and what was your part?
- What would you do differently?
- What are some specific ways God moved as you led?
- Did you guard your commitment to your walk with God, leadership of your family, and other priorities?
- Have you taken advantage of any “360-degree” feedback tools?
- Who stood by you? Have you thanked them in a tangible way?
These questions serve as the dials, gauges, and check-engine lights during your pit stop.
Another great reflective tool as you navigate from one complex context to another is to read or review classics like Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders, The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker and The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner.
If possible, interview the incumbent leader. Get as much information as possible, using questions like these:
- What have you enjoyed about this role?
- What (or who) has been particularly challenging?
- Who are the key “go to” people for information or to simply “git’er done” ?
- Who will expect what from me, and how often?
- Who are the influencers?
- What external factors significantly impacted your ability to accomplish the mission?
- What are you most proud of?
- What do you wish you had a bit more time to accomplish or complete?
Answering these questions for your successor will also help them pick up where you left off.
After you’ve spent some reflective, self-diagnostic time and learned as much as you can about the followers and situation you’ll soon inherit, it’s time to chart the way forward.
A few moments in a relaxed setting will yield many more helpful questions and answers in addition to these starters:
- What is your vision for the group?
- How will you cast this vision in a compelling way?
- How will you capitalize on your strengths?
- What will you do differently to avoid previous mistakes?
- Who is a possible Paul figure—someone who can help you develop as a Christian leader in this new situation?
- Who is a possible Barnabas figure—someone who can encourage you?
- Who is a possible Timothy—someone you can invest in?
- What books and articles do you plan to read to help keep yourself sharp?
- What would you like God to do in the lives of your new superiors, chain of command, peers, and subordinates?
- What do you want to trust God for in this new role?
As you enter each phase of your leadership journey, I encourage you to take these three looks.
Look back on where you’ve been. You’ll be reminded that God was indeed acting as you led—and that He was preparing you for the next assignment on the dream sheet He wrote for your life.
Look around at what you’re about to step into—go in with your eyes wide open.
Finally, look ahead, building on what you’ve discovered in the first two looks as you prepare to move forward.
Your prayerful reflections, coupled with a humble “I’m a work in progress… I have not arrived” attitude, can be powerful tools in God’s hand as you seek to glorify Him on your leadership journey.
Lt Col Frickenstein is currently serving as commander of the 15th Services Squadron at Hickam AFB. He has been active in OCF since 1988. He and his wife, Kristi, have two sons.