Communicating hope beyond suffering
Authentic leadership deals with life’s real issues of pain, trauma and suffering while pointing beyond to a life in Christ. As Paul reminds us, our present trials are but a means to an end; particularly for the Christian leader, hope is the final reality of life.
This is what a leader communicated to me in word and deed years ago in Bosnia. What impressed me most about him was he seemed completely present with me in the midst of my pain.
Weeks earlier we—the Mallard family—had just moved to Germany, and my sponsor had completely forgotten us! We had no promised transportation or housing but plenty of frustration. Government quarters designated for renovation became the new home for our two toddlers, a wife on crutches after knee surgery, and my mother-in-law helping us as I juggled competing family and professional demands. Then I deployed to Bosnia, angry, worried, and hurt. Feeling betrayed by the institution I’d sworn to serve, I decided to resign my commission upon redeployment.
Yet this leader saw something in me. He noticed, asked, and most importantly, listened. I watched him closely. He genuinely cared about my family and me, focusing on how these trials affected my spiritual walk and development. He then acted, ensuring the situation was professionally addressed.
I’ve since forgotten many details of that painful time but vividly recall that leader, communicating hope beyond my suffering. God gently reminded me of Paul’s words to the church at Rome: “…but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
3 transcendental leadership behaviors
1. Know and lead self. Be a person of character. Recognize challenges and struggles in life. Discover, study, and embrace Christian principles. This requires reflection and self-assessment.
2. Lead others and groups. Have and show empathy for others regardless of their status. Be a member of a chapel or church council; assist with Bible studies, programs and events. Use your officer leadership skills to motivate, guide, assist and facilitate.
3. Lead outside the Christian circle. Embrace opportunities and be inclusive in genuinely living for others. Agape love is our witness, “As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it unto to Me” (Matthew 25:40). This is perhaps the most challenging and difficult leadership task.
God reminds us that Scripture contains His timeless wisdom for us during our faith journeys. In Romans 5:1-5, Paul wrote of what can be gained through trial and adversity, speaking to the pain, trauma and suffering Christians endure for their faith. Rather than expressing sympathy, he demonstrated empathy.
He encouraged believers to embrace the circumstances of suffering, for this gives us the opportunity to persevere. Perseverance tests one’s mettle; it forges and refines character. When based on godly values, character generates hope. This hope allows the Christian to look beyond immanent circumstance to transcendent life in Christ. For the Christian warrior who leads others in the profession of arms, this “living hope” is the bedrock of effective servant leadership.
Paul’s construct applies to all Christian experience: suffering in the material world; perseverance supported by intrinsic motivation; character derived from pursuit of and adherence to first principles; and hope that springs from a lived faith.
Human nature usually seeks immediate pain relief from the instinctive fight or flight reaction. The natural focus toward worldly things with little or no intrinsic value, which we think will help avoid pain and bring pleasure, is a deceptive and transient temptation. We often don’t delay gratification, lacking recognition or acceptance of something bigger than self or more enduring than the present. Perhaps the first casualty of pain, trauma, and suffering is perspective.
This provides the Christian officer a valuable insight about the context and process of leadership. Predominant theories have evolved from transactional and transformational leadership to transcendental leadership, which Dr. John Maxwell ably covers in his The Five Levels of Leadership:
Transactional: leaders engage in exchange (quid pro quo) relationships with followers. The dominant principle is self-interest—WIIFM (What’s in it for me).
Transformational: leaders share their personal vision and inspire others. They genuinely value others and seek common aspirations.
Transcendental: leaders influence others through principle-based values for the spiritual development of followers. They extend beyond organizational boundaries by being inclusive and outward reaching.
Our faith must help us soberly face a fallen world and answer the tough questions of life. Personal faith based in Jesus Christ allows us to serve others while living in hope.
About Timothy and Charles
Timothy is the Deputy Chaplain at the United States Army War College. Charles is the Professor of Leadership and Cultural Studies at the United States Army War College.
Editor's Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.