Thoughts for Young Officers

The Three Cs of Leadership

by CDR Tom Thompson, USN (Ret.)

There's a great deal of talk about servant leadership in the military today, but few Christian officers are actually practicing it as the Lord prescribed.

There is something about the relational environment created by a leader that sets the tone for how his subordinates will respond to his leadership.

But if his relational adeptness is merely about achieving the bottom line, and does not come from a sincere heart, it will break down when his subordinates need him most. True servant leadership must flow from a heart that considers others more important than self -- and the bottom line.

Lieutenant Colonel Tom Hemingway was a distinguished combat leader in Vietnam, and a gifted teacher of biblical leadership. He often talked about the "Three Cs of Leadership" -- competence, courage, and caring. These are timeless, critical elements of military leadership that establish a climate of respect and approachability. The three Cs create a framework for thinking about, developing, and maintaining a humble but effective servant attitude as a leader.


Be the best leader you can be, not to impress men but to glorify God. If your men and women respect you and see you living with joy, they will want to be with you and follow you. Your troops want to know that you are reliable when they are following you in harm's way. Know your job, do it well, and help others do the same. Promote the recognition of others, especially those who work for you. Set your standards high. Challenge and train your people to both reach and keep them. Work with those who struggle with their performance. Help others succeed.

Competence is also reflected in your ability to use the Scriptures to direct your life and help others. Know the Word -- and do what it says. "The book of God is a storehouse of manna for God's pilgrim children.... The great cause of neglecting the Scriptures is not want of time, but want of heart.... If the Bible be used aright by anyone, it will be to him the most pleasant book in the world.[1]"

Competence requires study, prayer, discipline, hard work, and faith. Training in righteousness makes the man of God competent, equipped for every good work.


Courage is rooted in our relationship with God and in His promises. As closeness and confidence in Him grow, we are less intimidated by the pressures of life and more confident in His power and presence.

Never be ashamed of who you are in Christ. Too often the challenge of living in a sinful world overwhelms us, and fear of rejection, persecution, insults, or hardship causes us to retreat. Christ gives us the strength and ability to overcome and displace evil with good.

Officers are routinely faced with dilemmas and temptations that will test their integrity. Christian officers must be constantly alert checking their motives. Moral courage rests in a relationship with God that does not allow us to be ruled by our fears.

Instead, we trust in God who has given us a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline that overcomes fear. We must own up to our mistakes and be subject to the consequences of our failings without blame-shifting, deception, or making excuses.


Caring for your troops is generally acknowledged as an important aspect of military leadership, but its practice often gets lost in the face of competing goals and requirements. When the motives of a leader's heart are self-serving, caring for others becomes a secondary concern.

When a Christian officer cares about people exclusively for performance enhancement reasons, the motives of the heart are not pure. Love is giving and serving without expectation of return benefit. It is not manipulation.

Don't get so focused on job performance or your reputation that you miss the people. Remember you are Christ's ambassador and people are the mission. Love your people in practical ways. Help them solve their problems. Care enough to listen. Take time to really get to know them. Handle them with patience and kindness. Pray for them. Prayer will focus your heart and bring genuine concern for their wellbeing.

As you consider these "Three Cs of Leadership" remember that we, as Christian officers, should take time to examine our motives and guard against prideful, self-centered pursuits so that by grace we strive to honor the Lord in our work.

Our security, identity, and hope are in Christ -- not in the favor of men, promotions, or reputation. Our purpose is greater than the bottom line. If you achieve success in the world but destroy people in the process, you prove yourself a hypocrite -- and will lose the trust and respect of your people.

Be assured that challenges will come, but with every temptation God is faithful to provide the strength and the means for you to overcome. Prepare your mind for action and set your hope on the grace of God. The Bible teaches us that the Lord strengthens those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. May you learn to trust Him more and yourself less.