Four lessons in leadership for young warriors

by Lieutenant Colonel Todd Plotner, USA

Thousands of young leaders are now stepping forward as the new generation of commissioned officers in our nation’s military. Welcome to a high and noble calling, one filled with tough decisions and spiritual challenges not unlike those faced by the finest biblical heroes!

When commissioned at an OCF bar-pinning ceremony twenty years ago, I was ready to take on the world, but acutely aware I knew little about leadership and military service! Through mistakes and the Lord’s patient refinement, I learned that the Bible is the greatest leadership manual ever written, but we must apply its timeless truths to the circumstances of our lives. 

Consider the example of King David, once also a new officer embarking on his military career. Like all young leaders, he made his share of rash decisions and poor judgments, but David led exceptionally well under hard circumstances. Knowing that God alone equipped him for success, David ultimately proved “a man after God’s own heart.” The same God wants to equip you to become a successful leader:

Find strength in fellowship

We can’t go it alone! When you arrive at your first assignment, promptly find a Christian small group fellowship. If there is no small group fellowship, start one! 

David depended greatly on his closest friend Jonathan. By all accounts in Scripture, Jonathan would have proven a fine successor to his father King Saul. Yet God had chosen David. Jonathan showed no bitterness or envy. Instead, he equipped and encouraged his friend (1 Samuel 18:3-4). Seek friends like Jonathan. Be a friend like Jonathan. Offer enthusiastic support to those promoted ahead of you, especially fellow believers. 

Be faithful and competent 

Humbly recognize that the “so help me God” in your commissioning oath is a solemn appeal to God, acknowledging Him as the source of your competence and authority. 

Although young David possessed great gifts and clear potential, the Lord chose him because of his heart. You can certainly go a long way on your own talent, but those achievements will be meaningless if not done for God’s glory. The greatest moral failures for Saul and David came on the heels of their greatest professional successes (1 Samuel 15, 2 Samuel 11). 

Honor God with your effort

You have a responsibility to give 100 percent to accomplish the mission and care for your people. Your work is a very real facet of worshipping God, but do not worship your work. Resist the temptation to become a workaholic! David succeeded in his missions because the Lord was with him.

Know that you will experience failures. Whether because of moral shortcomings, unexpected circumstances or enemy action, you and your people will not always succeed as intended. In dark times while hiding from the murderous King Saul, David appeared fallen from favor and alone—when God was actually preparing him for greater leadership (1 Samuel 22:2). 

David’s difficult circumstances equipped him to lead those who were suffering. Some of your service members and families will suffer immensely from sin, tragedy, and war. They will desperately need to see the Gospel lived out in the life of a leader they respect. Your godly response to painful circumstances ultimately reveals far more about your character than circumstances ever will. 

Don’t complain! 

The leader who perseveres amid difficulty without complaint, argument or profanity is uncommon. Complaining or criticizing your peers, superiors or subordinates behind their backs will strip your credibility and moral authority. 

David poured out his complaints to God alone (Psalm 142:2). David got real with God, expressing his anger, fear and shame. But David also listened. His aching laments end with confident resolve to praise the God he knows will answer (Psalms 22, 56, 57). 

May the Lord—your strength, refuge and deliverer (Psalm 144:2)—empower you to become a strong and caring leader who inspires those you lead and glorifies the God you serve!

 

About Todd

Todd serves as the Army ROTC Professor of Military Science at Washington State University. He and his family enjoy reading and exploring the Pacific Northwest.

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