Monday, March 12, 2012

Moral Leadership

Today's topic came via a post by my friend Andy Mills and his blog Devotions 4 Cops.

I want to talk about the importance of moral leadership.

We’ve all heard of stories of a lack of moral leadership within the military. Whether it’s the actions or example of Lt. William Calley and the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War, or the Marines – including their platoon commander – who recently urinated on dead Taliban fighters, stories of moral failings are all too common in the military. Last year alone, 23 Navy COs were removed from command, the vast majority of them for moral failings - primarily "zipper failure."

But why is moral leadership so important? As Police Captain Andy Mills states, "We learn to lead from those who lead us. What they model, we often do. Rare is the person of moral conviction who leads through a sense of justice, fairness and gut wrenching honesty. I’m not talking about those who sit back and take pot shots at leaders through cynical negativism. That’s not leadership, that's cowardice."

Let me tell you a brief story about leadership and the widespread impact it can have. In my last post, I shared with you about my friend, Carroll "Lex" LeFon who recently passed away and whose website I visited on a near-daily basis for nearly 7 years. Now, many of us I’m sure have our favorite websites – maybe one where we go to get the latest news or read stories that appeal to our personal interests. But this site was different. Largely because of the man who ran it, and who appealed to a great variety of readers through his ability to share his moral beliefs, values and lessons learned without coming across as critical, arrogant or preachy.

As word spread about his death, people from all over the globe started coming to his site to post their remembrances. Soon, there were over 1200 posts on his website eulogizing the man. What was remarkable was that most of the folks had never met him – they simply knew him from his website and could tell what sort of leader he was by how he wrote and the things he said. On Friday evening, folks from all corners of the country held impromptu wakes at their favorite Irish pub to lift a glass in memory of Lex.

Think about that for a minute. Hundreds of people he had never met were gathering together en masse to commemorate him and the life he led. What made him a great leader? Among other things, he loved his family, treated people fairly, was willing to listen to other ideas, didn’t hog the spotlight, and treated every member of his command as though they were valuable and had something worthwhile to contribute. He lived a moral life, and wasn't afraid to show it or to talk about it.

Moral leadership is like that. You can see the result of leadership on units at all levels. In units where there is strong and positive leadership honorable soldiering thrives. Morale is high, regardless of where they are or what they are doing. Where there is poor leadership, you find lack luster performance, personnel issues and sometimes flagrant violations of the rules. The soldiers either don’t understand or don’t care about their mission – it’s just a paycheck.

King David learned the hard way about the morality of leadership. Bad behavior was modeled for him and he adapted those same traits at the worst possible time. This story starts in 1 Samuel 18. As the first king of Israel, King Saul saw David as a threat. The previous chapter tells the story of David & Goliath, and we find that David has become quite popular with the people – so much so that Saul is jealous and wants to get rid of him, because he fears that David is a threat to his power. Look at this passage:

Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had departed from Saul. So he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns. In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him. When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns.

Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the LORD.” For Saul said to himself, “I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!”

But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my family or my clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” So when the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel of Meholah.

Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.”

Then Saul ordered his attendants: “Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king likes you, and his attendants all love you; now become his son-in-law.’”

They repeated these words to David. But David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.”

When Saul’s servants told him what David had said, Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.

When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. So before the allotted time elapsed, David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.

When Saul realized that the LORD was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.

Do you see what happens here? Saul engages in conspiracy to commit murder. Saul had one of his confidants lie to David by saying that Saul wanted him as part of the royal family. What an honor, right? Initially, David refused saying he wasn’t worthy. In reality, he was too poor to come up with the money for the dowry. Saul knew this. So he tells David the price would be 100 foreskins of his enemy (which is a little twisted, if you ask me). That David could do – he was a warrior.

But Saul’s intent was to get David killed. In verse 17 he says, “I will not raise a hand against him, let the Philistines do that.” And again in verse 25 we are told that “Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.” Immoral leaders usually have others do their dirty work for them.

Now fast-forward ahead a few decades and let’s look at 2 Samuel 11:

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.

Joab sent David a full account of the battle. He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’”

The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”

David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”

When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.

David is now the king. In the spring when kings go to war, David stayed behind. Why? David was no coward – he was a warrior who had proved himself time and time again in battle. His troops respected him. The people loved him. So why did he remain behind this time? Ego. Self entitlement. Desire. Personal passion as opposed to professional excellence. David sees a beautiful woman and used his position and power to seduce her. He has an affair with her. She becomes pregnant and now David has a problem to solve. What would a moral leader do at this point?

So David brings her husband home from war. Uriah the Hittite. Now Uriah wasn’t just any soldier in Israel’s army – we are told that he was one of David’s mighty men. One of a short list of 37 individuals who were outstanding in terms of their military prowess. This was the guy you wanted next to you when the fighting started. In fact, maybe Uriah lived so close to the palace because David favored him so highly and wanted to have his bravest soldiers close by in case he needed them – we’ll never know. Undoubtedly, David knew this guy – he probably liked him.

So Uriah gets a message from the king telling him to take a little R&R. Of course any guy with a beautiful wife coming back from war or a long time away from home wants one thing first, right? But what is Uriah’s response? He refuses to go home and sleep with his wife because the rest of the army is still in the field; he doesn’t feel worthy.

Perhaps David has a pang of conscience at this moment. Maybe he has second thoughts about what he's trying to do here - the deceit he's become involved with. But what is David’s response to such loyalty and dedication? He invites Uriah to the palace that night, feeds him and gets him drunk hoping this will put them in bed and cover his immorality. Instead Uriah again refuses and wants to go back to the troops.

David has a second chance to put things right, to come clean and confess what has happened. But again, he refuses to do so. Instead, David sends him back to the war with orders to the army commander to put him on the frontlines, in the heaviest of the fighting. And then, when the fighting is fiercest, they were to withdraw from Uriah. Uriah, the brave and loyal soldier, returns to the frontline unknowingly carrying his own death warrant.

The report comes back - to David's relief and Bathsheba’s grief - that Uriah was killed.

But look what else happens when moral leadership is absent; other people get drawn in to the deception and pay the price for your moral failings. Joab, the army commander, didn’t question the king’s orders to have one of his best fighters deliberately killed. He just went ahead and carried out the command. If pressed, he probably would've shrugged his shoulders and said, "I was just following orders." Who does that sound like?

But who else paid for the king’s sin? The passage tells us that, in addition to Uriah, some of the king’s men died. Other soldiers put their lives at risk and some were killed in order to carry out David's plan. How would you feel if you learned that your leaders had planned a foolish frontal assault against an entrenched enemy position for the sole purpose of killing one man who hadn’t done anything wrong, and that other soldiers had also died as a result?

David made two huge errors during his kingship.

The first was arrogance. His arrogance led him to abandon his place of duty and satisfy his desires immorally. The second was the desire and willingness to cover his mistakes with more immoral behavior. The penalty for this was the death of his firstborn son as well as God refusing to allow David the privilege of building the temple.

Now remember the first story about Saul? Here’s the kicker: Both behaviors of David were ones he learned from Saul. When the arrogance of leadership got to David, the modeled traits of immoral leadership came flooding to the forefront of his decision making process. He became manipulative and wouldn’t listen to anyone else. His decisions cost him a son and his favor to build God’s temple. Costly mistakes!

As I examine the leadership I have seen in over 23 years of military service, I realize there are some good traits in most and some moral failures in a few. Some were excellent leaders with vision, clarity and purpose. Others were about personal power, position and self promotion. We've all probably known or seen people like this. But here’s one thing I do know. When we get arrogant, manipulative or quit listening to loyal friends or subordinates, we’re destined for trouble. We open ourselves up to mistakes that we cannot afford.

So consider your own leadership style. How are you doing with moral issues? In what areas have you become complacent? How do you treat or listen to your friends, subordinates or leaders? What are your motives that drive your actions? If you come up short in some area, what are you doing about it? Confess it to God and pray for His strength to turn away from it and do what is right. You won't regret it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Requiescat in Pace

So it was that on late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning I learned of the death of a friend of mine. Retiring after 26 years in the Navy flying F/A-18 Hornets, CAPT Carroll "Lex" LeFon, USN(Ret) had gone to work flying adversary aircraft against student aviators from TOPGUN (one word, all caps, don't ask) school, and was on that day flying an Israeli-made F21 Kfir single engine jet fighter when he crashed upon attempting to land at NAS Fallon, NV.

Over at his website, the final post has received over 1000 comments, many of them from folks who never met the man, some of whom - like myself - knew him somewhat from occasional get togethers or email exchanges. But all of us got to know the "humble scribe" primarily through his writings. And boy, could he write.

I was first pointed to his website back in 2005, when I was working at Marine Forces, Europe in Stuttgart, Germany. A Navy colleague was a frequent reader, and said I ought to check it out. Lex was, at the time, engaged in writing his multi-part "Rhythms" series, about life onboard an aircraft carrier - and from that moment on I was hooked.

In the course of things, my own professional aspirations having reached a culmination of sorts, I invited Lex to attend my ordination. He graciously appeared, having dusted off his four-striped uniform, and was among the first to congratulate me once the deed was done. To my somewhat embarrassment and quiet pride, he wrote about the event a few days later, tying in my celebration with his own religious wanderings; humbly revealing that he'd not been to church in a long while, yet still believed in Truth, and in what made someone a Christian.

As I sit here, still acutely feeling the loss of a man who in reality could not have been more than an acquaintance, I've been pondering why exactly I feel the way I do, and why my feelings are shared with nearly a thousand other souls, who grieve for much more than losing something to read with their morning coffee. Here's what I've come up with:

For over eight years, Lex shared himself through his gifted writings. He revealed to us his beliefs and his struggles with faith; his paternal fears about his daughter and his unmatched pride in his son. He regaled us with sea stories - some outright hilarious, others heartbreaking in their sadness - political musings, and all manner of various and divers lessons learned about flying, parenting, leadership, etc.

We invited him into our (virtual) homes, day after day, year after year, and came to feel as though we knew the man behind the screen. He quoted Yeats and Tennyson, showing himself to be a true renaissance man, a warrior/poet from a bygone era, and we loved him for it. He was possessed of a keenly analytical mind, and no small measure of intelligence, and he could pick apart social issues and present them in a manner which left some room for debate, yet had his own opinion clearly stamped on top.

In fact, it was this engaging debate that kept many of us coming back; for while in other blogs the comments section is almost an afterthought, at "Chez Lex" it was almost sort of an addendum to the regular post. Over the years, I began to recognize the "regulars" who always had something to say, and over time I found my own voice and dared to join in. I was welcomed and encouraged, for it was a very decent fellowship, and Lex worked hard to keep a sort of charitable intercourse going. We would bicker and argue with each other, but nearly always within the bounds of courtesy and camaraderie. Gradually, we coalesced into sort of our own little community, and would occasionally gather together at a local watering hole for to hoist a pint of Guinness (for strength!) and banter back and forth with our good and gracious host.

We recognized in him both professional excellence and amazing literary skill, as well as a basic decency that is hard to put into words. He was at once the boss you wished you had, the warrior you would unhesitatingly follow into combat, the wise older brother, and the loving, devoted husband and father that you aspired to be. He could tick off any number of accomplishments: a 26-year Navy career, command of a fighter squadron, XO of TOPGUN school - yet do so in a self-deprecating way, as though he was past the point of pride and arrogance. Not that he wasn't proud of being a strike/fighter pilot, as he would be quick to tell you, but it was just that he had begun to realize that life was full of so much more - that there wasn't time to dwell on past glories because the future held so much more promise.

We loved you, Lex. Loved you for your uncompromising pursuit of excellence. For the doubts and fears that you worked through and shared with us. For the profound and open love and admiration you expressed towards your dear wife of nearly three decades and your three beautiful children. For your honest and unsullied love of country and for the folks who served and continue to serve that nation in uniform. For continuing to tackle the hard things, all the while casting a weathered eye about for lessons to be learned and imparted to others. For sharing your wisdom with us and making us better people because of it.

Your loss is hard to bear, because we thought we had so much more time to sift through your pearls of wisdom.

As hizzoner himself would say, it is to weep.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The True Meaning of Diversity

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Having just finished Black History Month, and a recent prayer breakfast on this subject, I thought these verses would be especially appropriate this week as we celebrate our diversity within the military community.

First, what is diversity? The dictionary definition is the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” In the military, it means having a diverse – or varied – group of people within our organization. This is seen not just in race, heritage or gender, but in rank, MOS, experience, etc. We all contribute to the diversity of our unit in some way. This benefits us by bringing in a variety of experiences, languages, cultures, etc. It adds breadth and depth.

But diversity can be a touchy subject sometimes. Although for some it means recognizing the many different cultures and ethnicities that make up our American society, and trying to ensure that each has the same opportunities to succeed and excel in their chosen profession, let’s be honest; for others it has negative connotations, and signifies quotas, affirmative action, and methods of "leveling the playing field" which are a sort of reverse discrimination. This word can have a polarizing effect – for while we all may agree that diversity is a good thing to have in any organization, we may have differences of opinions in how to best implement that goal. But the goal of diversity is not just to “have diversity.” There must be a purpose, and there must be a standard.

To me, these verses that Paul wrote to the church in Galatia around 50 A.D. are a prime example of true diversity. You see, prior to this – prior to Christ’s birth – the Jews were God’s chosen people. They had received God’s laws from Moses that instructed them on how they were to live, and what they needed to do to live rightly before God. And for hundreds of years, they were a pretty exclusive club – the keepers of God’s laws, and His representatives to all the rest of the nations around them. You were either born into it as a Jew, or you could marry into it, provided that you converted and agreed to follow all the laws and practices, up to and including circumcision.

But Christ’s death on the cross changed all of that. Now, by God’s grace, the doors have been flung wide open and everyone is invited. Jesus himself foretold all of this during his ministry. Look at one of his parables, from Matthew 22:

“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Now in this story, the invitees represent the Jews – they were the ones to whom the personal invitation had been sent by the king himself. The servants represent the prophets, who continually reminded the Jews of their need to repent and turn back to God, and who were often mistreated or killed. And the people on the street? Well, they represent the Gentiles – those like you and me. We may not be the original invitees, but the door has been opened and all are invited to the wedding banquet.

But, like I said before, diversity simply for diversity’s sake doesn’t do much. There has to be a purpose or intent behind it. In the military, we work to ensure that all citizens who meet the standards have an equal opportunity to serve, to be recognized, and to be promoted – not on the basis of their color, creed or gender – but in spite of it. To be judged, as Dr. King said, on the content of their character. As an organization, we want to have the benefit of many ethnicities, languages, cultures, and experiences, but in order to get in you have to be qualified and meet the military standards.

The same thing is true for the Christian life. The purpose of opening up the gates of heaven for all is not to meet some sort of divine quota, but because of God’s great love for all his people. Go look at John 3:16. It’s because God so loved the world that he gave his Son – that whosoever believes might have eternal life. That is the appeal of the Gospel: it’s not something that is only available to the rich, or to Americans, or to those who give a certain amount of money to the church. It’s for everyone.

But, just like the military, there are standards that must be met. What is that standard? Let's look at a few verses:

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

So the first standard is faith in God; we must believe in God and in who Christ is in order to be saved. Romans 10:9 tells us that “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

But then, in Matthew 7:21, Jesus tells us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

So here we have two seemingly contradictory things – faith and deeds. Believing and doing. It may seem contradictory, but really the two go hand in hand – they are two sides of the same coin. The degree to which you believe something is the degree to which you act on that belief. Are you married? If so, did your job of being a husband or wife stop once you left the altar? Did you just put a ring on your finger and return to your single life? Of course not.

We also know this in the military, because we practice it every day. We don’t call someone a soldier/sailor/airman or Marine just because they took the oath of office – they have to complete basic training first. We don’t call someone a pilot, or an infantryman, or a mechanic, or even a chaplain – unless and until they complete their training. They demonstrate their commitment to the military – to the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines – by going out and doing what they committed to when they first raised their right hand and took that oath.

So the two go together, and should be inseparable. Faith is the necessary starting point, which then naturally leads to action. The depth of one's belief can and should be measured by the degree to which they are willing to live out those beliefs in their life. As James says, faith without works is dead.

So to sum up:

· The Kingdom of God is full of diversity; every tribe and nation, every person on earth now has access to God and has been invited to the banquet.

· This diversity has a purpose; that God be glorified by having as many as will receive Him come to a saving knowledge of Him and have eternal life.

· This diversity has standards; that we have faith in God and that such faith will necessarily lead to actions in our lives.