Only by trusting God and His plan for our lives can we lead courageously in our duty as both officers and Christians.
Ask an American to paint portraits of courage and you will see images of our nation’s military men and women. My own gallery includes Airmen I commanded who displayed courage under fire, a compatriot in our OCF Bible study who gave his life flying the skies of Ghazni Province, and his widow, who still serves in the Air Force today.
I think of these courageous Airmen in light of our nation’s politically correct culture and I wonder: does our leadership courage match the battlefield boldness of those we lead? Paralyzed by apprehension and unwilling to step out of safe shelters, some of us avoid leadership risks because of skyrocketing personal and professional costs. But those we lead, who trust us with their lives, need our courageous leadership. Despite the hazards leaders must navigate, it’s our duty as Christians and as officers to lead courageously by trusting God’s call on us.
A few years ago, I commanded a squadron with less than five percent female Airmen. Carrying out construction and emergency response duties, I was frequently broached by the curious and outspoken about the topics of gender roles and faith. One experienced craftsman awkwardly confessed, “We’re all surprised you know something about construction and leadership. We figured you were put here for a quota or something. But you seem competent and interested in what we’re doing. We’re trying to figure you out!” In another case, a depressed Airman wondered aloud: “What makes you so happy all the time?”
All officers face minefields in leadership. Conventional wisdom advises playing it safe, avoiding sensitive topics. But I felt had to navigate those minefields of gender roles and faith. And I soon began to view them as the niche of my calling as a Christian officer and as places of opportunity with the most potential to glorify God.
In our world of political correctness, military indoctrination sometimes blinds us to higher moral callings. Officers are charged with caring for the comprehensive fitness of each warrior we lead, their physical, social, mental—and spiritual health. Some leaders never consider their responsibility to facilitate meeting spiritual needs; others choose to ignore it.
All officers face minefields in leadership. Conventional wisdom advises playing it safe, avoiding sensitive topics. But I felt had to navigate those minefields of gender roles and faith.
Sometimes it’s not being blinded to moral responsibility, but struggling with our own beliefs on sensitive topics. Concerning gender roles in the workplace, many of us wrestle with issues ranging from who can serve to how we interact and respect one another in God-honoring ways. We Christians can all agree on some central biblical truths. God created us male and female (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4), with equal value, but not the same. Our strengths, weaknesses and psychological needs differ (Titus 2).
When we won’t acknowledge these differences, we fail to paint an accurate picture of God. We also miss opportunities to affirm the value of those we lead, address personal crises (often rooted in poor spiritual health), diffuse tension in the workplace, and build the best team possible for our nation’s defense. By not settling for the politically correct culture of androgyny, we bring glory to God when we have the courage to honor His created order.
Since we are unlikely to reverse law, policy or service culture, we must find effective ways to work within established laws and policies, including those on gender and faith. Whether we agree or disagree with policies on who serves in the military or who fills combat positions, as military officers we must accept the team our nation gives us. Neglecting a soul we are charged to lead is unproductive.
I developed and use eight points (shown below) to navigate the leadership minefields I face: identify the truth or moral responsibility, accept the situation, know the battlefield, remain alert, anticipate the battles, choose a course of action, act, and accept personal responsibility.
Our leadership choices and actions may have career or life-changing implications. As with all aspects of servant-leadership, though, it’s not about us! It’s about focusing on those we lead and their needs. Take heart if you’re struggling with courage while facing your particular leadership minefields. The Bible says that wrestling is part of our walk with God (Romans 7:15-20); the Holy Spirit is working to keep our eyes open to opportunities for God’s glory.
Only by trusting God and His plan for our lives can we lead courageously in our duty as both officers and Christians. It’s time to build a strategy that calculates the risks of leadership minefields and faces them with a moral courage that matches the bravery of those we lead on the battlefield.
I developed and use eight points to navigate the leadership minefields I face: identify the truth or moral responsibility, accept the situation, know the battlefield, remain alert, anticipate the battles, choose a course of action, act, and accept personal responsibility.
Here are eight points to calculate leadership risks in order to face the fears of a politically correct climate with a moral courage that matches the bravery of those we lead on the battlefield.
1. Identify the truth or moral responsibility.
- Is military indoctrination blinding me to a higher moral calling?
- Do I dress up personal preferences on disputable issues as God’s moral law?
- Am I seriously considering my responsibility to meet each member’s spiritual needs?
- Do I recognize that many serious personal issues arising among those I lead are rooted in poor spiritual health?
2. Accept the situation.
- We are unlikely to reverse law, policy or service culture.
- Considering ourselves as policy victims is inconsistent with God’s truth: “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
- Upon appointment to a special position of trust and influence as a military officer, we voluntarily ceded some private rights in our official capacity.
- We must accept the team our nation gives us, to care for each soul we’re charged to lead: physically, socially, mentally and spiritually.
- Judgmental attitudes do little to “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).
3. Know the battlefield.
- Many mines can be mapped: know the law, the policy, your chain of command.
- You have religious rights and spiritual responsibilities. Know them. Read The Religious Rights of Those in Uniform by Robert Weston Ash.
- Understand how God wired men and women differently: seek out biblical texts on gender strengths and weaknesses (often presented for husbands and wives, but see also Luke 15—the same parable told differently to men and women—and Jesus’ example of casting aside societal stereotypes in Luke 10:38-42).
- Know what your gender and faith stereotypes are and how they affect your thoughts and behaviors by taking Harvard’s Project Implicit test. It’s free.
4. Remain alert.
- You will be among wolves; some are in sheep’s clothing (Matt 10:16). Recognize potential traps such as insincere questions (John 8:3-11).
- Are you or your unit hindering God-given talents aligned with gender? Or discriminating because of religious beliefs? Do you and your followers show respect for each person God has created?
- As you discuss spiritual needs with others, listen more than you speak. Read body language and expressions carefully.
- Guide conversations by asking questions (Matt 22:15-22).
- Be aware of how emotional expressions such as anger and tears can affect the loyalty and motivation of those you lead.
5. Anticipate the battles.
- Know the climate in your unit and the views of your superiors.
- How will you respond if asked about gender roles or your faith and beliefs? Preparedness leads to courage.
- Be prepared to give an answer with gentleness, respect, and a clear conscience (1 Peter 3:15-16). Your words should glorify God, not stir up fear or discord.
- To appropriately share your beliefs in a God-honoring way decide in advance with whom and in what context.
6. Choose a course of action.
- Over-analysis can lead to inaction. Seek courage and wisdom from Scripture, prayer, and trustworthy, mature Christians—then make choice. Not making a choice is in itself a choice.
- Is God calling you to a particular action? Or are you just trying to make a point? Ensure that pride, stubbornness, and rebelliousness don’t sway your decisions.
- All those you lead are unique: observe, adapt, and choose actions best meeting their needs.
- Consider the needs of your followers above your own. Choose communication and feedback styles based on the needs of your followers rather than your own preferred style.
- The best moral choice isn’t always the least risky legal choice. True courage is in knowing the risk, yet proceeding because of the expected outcome’s value.
- Choosing a course of action and carrying it out aren’t necessarily the same thing. The best battle plan is useless if it remains on the shelf.
- Once you’ve resolved the best moral choice, with direction from God, follow through with what you decide.
8. Accept personal responsibility.
- Your choices and actions have consequences (Philippians 2). Honorably face your circumstances by accepting responsibility for your choices. A warrior’s true character is often revealed in the heat of battle.
- Set aside pride and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Remain confident that God continues working through His obedient servants.
- Don’t fear the trials associated with decisions (James 1:3-4), or those who can kill the body (or career) but cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10:26-42). God knows your needs.
Mandy is an engineer who has worked in research and development as well as construction and emergency response. She and her husband, Lt Col Paul Birch, USAF, both completed squadron command at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, NC. They now live in Washington, D.C., and both work in the Pentagon.