Resilient Leadership 2
AVM Al Clements
Some might think, “Why does a fighter pilot need God?” When someone has reached, what is seen by many as, among the very highest achievements in our world, why would you need to have a hope and faith in God? This question is not just about being a pilot; it’s about being any successful person – why do you need God? The Bible talks about how the rich can’t see their need for God, but the poor do. When people looked at me before I became a Christian, they looked at me as someone who had a wife and two daughters, a fighter pilot, Commanding Officer (CO) of a successful squadron; and they may have thought “Wow he’s successful”. But inside I could see all my failures and all those things that I had done wrong. Here inside I was this mess of a man and part of my transition into being Christian was that I learnt to accept this mess of a person. Just because there’s this success suit sitting on the outside of somebody it doesn’t reflect the inside. To me in Christianity, in leadership, in resilience is this strength that comes internal to you. It’s not about what you do or the job you have. It’s about the type of person you are. Everybody needs that spiritual link which, in my view, is that which is found in Christ.
I was deployed in 2002 and worked for somebody from whom I would say I learnt more about leadership than I’ve learnt from anybody else; but it wasn’t because I felt they were necessarily good at it. I also learnt a real lot about myself at that point: that I had placed a lot of my self worth on what I did and what people thought about me. I had that stripped away from me by this person at the time. That had a major impact on this seemingly strong fighter pilot capable person to have all that self worth stripped away. I really had attached my self worth to my performance and my job. It sounds dumb, but a lot of men in particular do that. It’s about being the alpha male, about being this person that’s better than everybody else; capable, respected, looked up to. I had that taken away from me. The worst bit about it was, in addition to it having knocked me significantly and ending up in depression, needing help (not that I knew at the time); my marriage and relationship with my kids were being detrimentally affected, all because of the way that I’d been treated. I didn’t feel valued, useful, or that anybody wanted me as part of the organisation. To feel that way I think impacts on your resilience and knocks you to your core; because back then, I didn’t have the view of myself that I was unique, that I was created in God’s image, and that it really didn’t matter what that person thought of me – particularly when it wasn’t true! So it took a while for me to get past that. That, I think, has shaped the way that I try to treat other people and try to be a leader. It’s actually trying to build them, to try and make them feel valued and feel wanted.
Leadership is intensely personal. You cannot lead by:
- not being yourself
- not making it a personal thing.
To lead others you have to be able to lead yourself. To lead yourself you need to know yourself and the biggest part of that is accepting yourself. I know God created me unique (thank goodness – my wife says you don’t need any more of me around) with strengths, weaknesses, failures, and successes. All these things are part of me and I need to learn to accept them, God created me and accepts me – so why can’t I?
Once I’d come to accept myself it made it easier to lead myself. It makes it easier to think “that’s okay to not be successful in that area” or “that’s okay to have someone who’s better than you in a particular way.” And once you learn to accept yourself, then you can accept others. You can look at others in a different light and actually lead them in a different way. Leadership is intensely personal but it’s personal about how you serve others. That’s the biggest thing for me about leadership: you have to know yourself, you have to accept yourself. If you can’t accept yourself then there’s no way you can really lead others positively.
- I’ve used the word CHRIST as an acronym to think about leadership in a Christ-like manner:
If I can behave in a way that embodies these, then that helps me in a practical way every day to be a good leader. One of the things I try to do is keep my emotion out of anything that occurs. That doesn’t mean I don’t get upset or angry, but I try to remove that – get myself back in a place where I’m with God in a way to make decisions. In terms of day-in-day-out decisions, I know I don’t always get it right; but I desire to embody each of those values in how I treat people, how I make decisions, and how I’m involved in anything that occurs within the Academy, whether it’s a decision on policy or decision on what’s going to happen to somebody.
Now just because you are a Christian doesn’t make you soft. You can be firm, but you’ve got to be fair and stick to those values. Each time I measure my decisions against those values: does what I am doing or what I am saying relate to those values?
My wife is much better at keeping me focused. One of the things she asks me is “Are you doing it in your own strength?” When you are making a mistake or trying to deal with it, “Where are you going for help now?” Going to God is the most important thing at such times. Think about “How did I get there? Why didn’t I invite God to be involved earlier? Why aren’t I going to God now for recovering the situation?”
It is important to bring our daily circumstances to God – openly on our knees and turning to him, metaphorically or physically, saying “I’m sorry, this is where I am. I don’t know how to get out of here. Please help.” If we do that and we’re really truthful with it, not just paying lip service, Christ will send his Holy Spirit to help with the problem. It might not be taken away! It may still be there, but the fact that the Holy Spirit will make good out of everything offers the only way to deal with these sorts of things; certainly in a spiritual and strength sense.
It’s interesting that much of the current research in militaries around the world is now talking about spiritual fitness. Everyone needs spiritual fitness to be able to do their job. Like any fitness, you have to train; and I’m the worst offender. I always turn up when I’ve messed up, not when things are going well. Spiritual fitness is about maintaining that relationship with God all the time – when things are going well and when things are going bad. You need to maintain that relationship all the time.
It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s about how you then recover. It’s about how open and transparent you are about the mistake. There are many decisions I’ve made as a leader, as a CO, that weren’t necessarily based on the six principles from the CHRIST acronym. Being able to stand up in front of my people and say, “I made that decision and that was wrong for these reasons”, and accept responsibility for that, helps you recover and get going a lot quicker. The challenge is when it is something very obvious. Then you start to wonder what other people are thinking about that decision I’ve made. It’s really tough for a leader who has made a bad decision. Being open and transparent; but leaning on, and heading back to the Vine all the time is really important.
I haven’t known up to now what God has planned, so I’m not sure I can predict what He has for me in the future. What I can say is since really coming to faith and relaxing in who I am, my career has gone far further than I could ever have imagined. So all I could ask for prayer for my future is that I maintain that faith in God, relax in who I am; and if it goes further as a career, that’s great. If it doesn’t, then that’s okay as well as I’m sure God will order my steps. He brings things into the places they need to be. In the end, if it’s Helene and me, and my girls (and we’re living next to an airfield), I’ll be pretty happy.