3 Simple Steps for Stellar Leadership

Years ago I attended a Squadron Commanders’ conference at Scott Air Force Base. I always assumed these events were designed to make one a better leader when in fact, they are designed to enlighten a commander as to what the headquarters staff is working on to include the various “programs” available to assist warriors in trouble. Think equal opportunity, sexual assault programs, legal advice, alcoholic dependency programs—all of which are indeed very important, but should probably be layered over proper leader development and advice to a commander.

Honestly it was stressful, assuming a new leadership position, looking for advice, direction, and mentoring and it appeared there was none, but sometimes we just need to rest easy. The advice is there and at times it comes from the most obscure, yet obvious place.

At these events, the “command” will assign a general officer to sponsor or emcee the event. In this case the general was an amazing leader who spent time between breaks with us dispensing invaluable advice. After one particular break the general came forward, looked the audience in the eye (with a bit of a scowl) and said, “Don’t any of you think for a second your jokes got any funnier or you got any better looking just because you have become a commander!”  

He then proceeded to pull a piece of paper out of his pocket. The paper was small and had a strange gum-wrapper appearance to it. As he opened it, he said, “Let me give you some advice that was handed down to me when I became a squadron commander.”

Immediately, I opened my notebook — pen prepared, mind ready.

The general stared at his “gum wrapper” and told us that a little known book in the Bible would tell us everything we needed to know about leadership. He was referring to Micah 6:8.

He folded the wrapper, placed it in his pocket, and left the stage.

Wait, I wasn’t familiar with Micah.

The Book of Micah is a prophetic book in the Old Testament, and the sixth of the twelve minor prophets. It records the sayings of MicahMikayahu, meaning “Who is like Yahweh?” An 8th-century B.C. prophet, Micah reproaches unjust leaders, defends the rights of the poor against the rich and powerful, and preaches social justice all while looking forward to a world at peace. Micah’s career corresponds to the period when, after a long period of peace, Israel, Judah, and the other nations of the region came under increasing pressure from the aggressive and rapidly expanding Assyrian empire.

So, Micah 6:8? A paraphrase of the short verse goes like this: Act justly…love mercy…and…walk humbly. Three simple steps that ensure stellar leadership.

Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

I find myself reflecting on these three things every time I come across a tough issue. Am I acting justly, showing appropriate mercy, and walking humbly? Note the tension there between those three things.

As the years have gone by, I have had the verse etched on my dog tags, so the three rules are always symbolically and physically close to my heart.

Put into practice, the verse looks something like this:

  • Act Justly:Justice is treating people in a way that is considered morally right: reasonable or proper. Justice, in its broadest context, includes both the attainment of that which is just and the philosophical discussion of that which is just. The concept of justice is based on numerous fields, and many differing viewpoints and perspectives including the concepts of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity, and fairness. Often, the general discussion of justice is divided into the realm of social justice as found in philosophy, theology and religion, and, procedural justice as found in the study and application of the law both of which are incredibly applicable to the life of a commander.
  • Love Mercy: Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. Mercy is a broad term that refers to benevolence, forgiveness, and kindness. It includes the concepts of zeal toward the people we work with showing love, kindness, grace, and favor in good and in misfortune. Leadership is tough and there will be times where justice and mercy externally may conflict with each other, but take a moment and reflect. Are your actions as a leader just and merciful? We are in the business of building leaders. We may uncover a mistake today, and with mercy help a leader develop tomorrow.
  • Walk Humbly: In Good To Great, Jim Collins discusses the “Level 5” Leader as the highest level of leadership one can achieve and notes the “level 5” leader possesses humility and fierce resolve. Humility enhances leadership effectiveness. It is absolutely multi-dimensional and it furthers our self-understanding, awareness, openness, and perspective taking. Above all humility enables us to trust others, to practice integrity, to be open to improvement, to be sincere in everything we do. Humility gives us the ability to bounce back, try again, experiment and innovate with fresh ideas, to stand up to resistance, and admit we might not be the smartest, strongest, or best looking in the room.

Again, there is a very interesting tension between justice, mercy, and humility. Ponder and feel the tension while in a difficult leadership scenario.

That’s it—rest easy—that’s all there is to it: Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly. I put these words on items I give to my boys like Luke’s lightsaber he received as a dad-to-son gift at high school graduation.

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Regardless of your belief system, these words are valuable. We all need to learn them and live them. Now go ahead, take Micah 6:8 and put your own spice, spin, and audacity on it. GO LEAD!