Last Updated on June 26, 2018 by OCF Communications

Many of today’s senior military leaders began their careers during the cold war and the threat of a superpower conflict. While that period was marked by high tension and the possibility of global conflict, there was a certain predictability in military service.

Today, the level of possible conflict has changed and the nature of the threat is much more complex and varied. Violence may erupt in a myriad of locations and possibly spread quickly to other nations or regions.

Analyst Douglas Lute of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict has noted four characteristics of future responses to these threats that describe the changing demands on future military leaders.

First, responses will be multidimensional and interdependent. For example, while the military was preparing for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, some senior officers were a part of an interagency team of political and military leaders working to avoid combat while helping to form the Allied Coalition.

Increasingly, it is likely that future operations will involve various governmental and nongovernmental agencies and multinational forces. Humanitarian assistance operations will be a continuing role of the U.S. military, and law enforcement could be as well, particularly in the area of drug interdiction.

Second, responses will be dynamic. When a crisis requires the commitment of military forces, we can expect forces to be introduced in complex simultaneous operations.

Other agencies will also be involved to provide humanitarian relief, economic development, and political training. Coordination across agency and national boundaries will demand leaders with strong negotiating and communicating skills.

Third, responses will require a long-term view by leaders at all levels. Involvement in the Balkans taught us this hard lesson. When our national leaders agreed to use our forces to prevent genocide, it was hoped that the commitment would be for a limited duration.

The harsh reality is that the situation may demand a long-term commitment. Future operations will require us to look to the far horizon.

Finally, we in the military must be constantly aware of the essential fact that the primary mission of the Armed Forces is to prepare for and fight, when necessary, the nation’s wars. The soldier, sailor, airman, and marine-and their leaders-must remain trained and always ready to face the perils of war.

Servant-leaders will be known by their selfless service and genuine concern for their subordinates. Much of that goal will be accomplished by telling the truth without hesitation and by leading by example.

Two Unchanging Needs for a Leader

In the midst of these changing threats and shifting priorities, the need for men and women with integrity and character will not change. These two attributes are often taken as one, but integrity is the more specific. Proverbs 13:6 states, “Righteousness guards the man of integrity.” Integrity comes from a Latin root meaning completeness or wholeness.

A man or woman of integrity envisions and expresses himself or herself as a whole person-intellectually, physically, culturally, and spiritually. Many of us emphasize one or another of these aspects of our existence, but our best service and effectiveness can be realized when we have blended excellence in all these areas of our personal and professional lives.

The leadership challenges of the future will place a high premium on integrity. Our leaders must be intellectually competent to evaluate enormous amounts of often conflicting information arriving simultaneously. Critical thinking and decisiveness will be increasingly important on the dynamic battlefield. Physically, leaders will need high energy, strength and endurance for the demands of continuous long-term operations.

Leaders will be challenged culturally as they serve with men and women from diverse domestic and international cultures, often working side by side for long hours in unfamiliar environments. Spiritually, our leaders will be required to make decisions in ambiguous situations that challenge the sanctity of life and the rule of sovereign law over human affairs.

We are told in Luke 2:52 that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Clearly, the words of Scripture show that He developed and matured intellectually (in wisdom), physically (in stature), culturally (with men), and spiritually (with God). He was a leader of deep integrity and is our ultimate example. Even the Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity” (Mark 12:14).

When leaders adequately integrate these aspects of their professional and personal lives, they will be people of integrity. Our nation will continue to need men and women of integrity to lead our future soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines.

Character has been defined as what we are when no one is looking. One of the most important ingredients of character is a personal commitment to ruthless honesty. Tell the truth without hesitation. Military leaders of character need to be trusted without question, for ambiguities of the battlefield will not tolerate shading the truth. The lives of our peers and subordinates are at stake.

Another important ingredient is leading by example. Military leadership carries with it legal authority, but leaders must earn the respect of those they command. They earn it by leading by example. Whether training for a major exercise or inspecting troops before a battle, leaders of character are present with their subordinates, leading them.

Servant-leaders will be known by their selfless service and genuine concern for their subordinates. Much of that goal will be accomplished by telling the truth without hesitation and by leading by example.

Although we have separated integrity and character, in practice they are virtually inseparable. Christian leaders of character possess all of these attributes, not in their own strength, but in the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ. The call to the Christian in military service is not a call to abandon one’s vocation, but to do everything “as unto the Lord,” to actually do it for Christ himself. Above all, the leaders live a transparent life of sacrificial devotion to their Lord, their families, their troops and profession.

The life of the military leader is one of sacrifice. Just as we are frequently expected to sacrifice for others, the Christian leader looks to Jesus as the perfect example of one who sacrificed His life for His friends.


We can anticipate and plan for some of the future challenges, but many are beyond our ability to ever imagine. What we do know, however, is that even with the complex and changing demands, there will be the unchanging requirement for integrity, the integration of all aspects of life-intellectual, physical, cultural and spiritual-into a consistent commitment, and for character, leading with honesty and selfless service.

David, the Old Testament king, was a soldier of extraordinary leadership ability. He was recognized as intelligent, physically strong, and socially graceful. He is best known, though, for his humble reliance on his Sovereign Lord: “I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank offerings to you” (Ps. 56:11).

Christian leaders model David in the sense that they alone have the Spirit of God living in them. That is a power that only God can give, and it is a power that can transform the world, even the twenty-first century world of uncertainty, complexity, and fear. Throughout their lifetime, Christian leaders of integrity and character have the supreme joy of knowing that their service for others is ultimately an act of worship for their Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

About Lieutenant General Howard D. Graves, United States Army, Retired: General Graves retired from active duty in June 1996 as superintendent of the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. Other command assignments included Commandant, Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; Assistant Division Commander, First Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas; and combat engineer units from company through brigade. He was also assistant to the Secretary of Defense and to two chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He and his wife, Gracie, live in College Station, Texas, where he is Chancellor of the Texas A&M University system.

About Lieutenant Colonel Bruce K. Bell, United States Army, Retired: Lieutenant Colonel Bell entered the Army in 1969 as an ROTC graduate of Penn State and retired from active duty in 1996 as the speechwriter for the superintendent of the Military Academy, LTG Howard D. Graves. Other significant assignments included tours in Iran and in the Pentagon as an Army spokesman for four years. LTC Bell is associate professor of Business Communications at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.