8 More Principles of Relational Leadership

by | Jul 9, 2017

Congressman Steve Russell

In last week’s post, I described seven principles of relational wisdom that are illustrated in Congressman Steve Russell’s gripping book, We Got Him: A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein. 

As I noted in that post, these principles of being “God-aware, self-aware and other-aware” are being applied every day by the Congressmen, Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon officers and diplomats who attended our recent training.

Here are eight more relational principles from that book that also contribute to success in every leadership position, whether in the halls of national government or in a family, business, church or ministry.

8. Correct others constructively (2 Tim. 2:24) – One day two of Steve’s men carried out a counter-insurgency operation without fully informing other units in the area. They had used a civilian truck for transportation, and when they returned to their base in the evening, they came under fire from U.S. sentries. One of the men was seriously wounded. Although Steve was upset by this needless injury, he did not let his anger move him to say things he would later regret. Instead he reviewed the situation calmly with the two men, helped them to identify the gaps in their planning, and enabled them to learn from their mistake.

9. Be open (but not obnoxious) about your faith (Luke 12:8) – I was surprised to read how open Steve was about his faith in Christ. Not only did his men see him pray on numerous occasions; they also heard him play the guitar during chapel services. He never pushed his faith on others, but he was always open to talking about the Bible and Jesus. His relaxed and open attitude was shared by other believers in the battalion, which opened the door for many conversations about God. As a result, dozens of soldiers came to faith in Christ and were baptized in the swimming pool in Saddam Hussein’s Summer Palace—of all places!

10. Communicate so clearly you cannot be misunderstood (Col. 4:3-4) – One of the most frustrating parts of Steve’s job was working with the news reporters assigned to follow his mission. Some of them seemed to be looking for negative things to report, and even well-intentioned reporters often had their stories altered by state-side editors to capture headlines. Rather than letting resentment and defensiveness control him, Steve made a deliberate effort to get to know the reporters personally, to assume that their intentions were good, and to do all he could to help them succeed in their jobs. Most importantly, he learned to communicate so clearly and with such colorful words and illustrations (that he knew would make good copy for the front page), that it was increasingly difficult to misunderstand or misquote him.

11. Kindness opens doors (Eph. 4:32; Rom. 2:4) – “Intelligence” was the key to success in suppressing terrorism in Tikrit. The more detailed and accurate information they had about the community and the enemy, the more successful the battalion could be in carrying out their mission. Some of their best “intel” came as the result of an unplanned act of kindness. One day Steve visited the home of a helpful Iraqi official. When he met the official’s father, he saw that he was suffering from a terribly infected foot injury. Steve immediately arranged for the man to undergo needed surgery that resolved the problem. A few days later he learned that the man was the “Mukhtar” of Tikrit, which meant that he recorded and preserved all public records (births, marriages, etc.) as well as the military enlistment records for the region … which included the names and photos of many of the men who had become terrorists. In appreciation for Steve’s kindness in healing his foot, the Mukhtar gladly shared these records with him, which greatly facilitated efforts to reduce terrorism and the eventual capture Saddam Hussein.

12. Let others get the glory (Phil. 2:3-4; Matt. 23:12) – The soldiers in Steve’s battalion often worked closely with small teams of Special Operations Forces (SOFs). When those combined efforts were successful, it would have been natural for Steve to boast of his leadership role and to claim the glory for his battalion. Instead, he deflected the personal praise and drew attention to the skill and courage of both his infantrymen and the SOF teams who carried out those dangerous missions.

13. Look out for the interests of others (Phil. 2:4) – God blessed the 1st Battalion with many outstanding officers. As their skills and experience became evident, they were often offered transfers to higher levels of responsibility and command. Although each transfer would inevitably leave a gap in Steve’s command structure, he resisted the temptation to hold on to those officers. Trusting that God would fill those gaps with the talent he needed, Steve celebrated and supported his officers’ advancement and sent them off to their new positions with his blessings and prayers.

14. Weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15; John 11:15) – Steve grieved over every soldier who was injured or killed while under his command. One death was especially hard to bear. Specialist Holly McGeogh served as a highly skilled mechanic in the battalion motor pool. She worked long hours in blistering heat to make sure her fellow soldiers had reliable vehicles during their dangerous missions. During her off duty hours, she played with Iraqi children, trying to bring some fun and laughter into their war-torn lives. One day Holly volunteered to “ride shotgun” on a supply convoy. When her vehicle was destroyed by an IED (improvised explosive device), Holly was killed instantly. During her memorial service, Steve simply could not hold back his tears. As he wrote afterwards,

“I don’t care what anyone says. Losing female soldiers in battle is different. We had now lost two. People can try to talk themselves into any type of theory they wish, but to the average infantryman in battle, losing a female solder is different …. I am only human. My voice broke. As a commander, I did the unthinkable. I cried before my soldiers. I suppose I could have shown more sternness as a commander. Still, the Army tradition goes that memorial services are the place to say our goodbyes …. If we could not show our love for our fellow soldiers there, then where could we? My soldiers knew me. They knew I would lead the fight for them, and now they knew I was also capable of mourning along with them. I don’t regret it” (p. 451-2).

15. Trust in the Lord … and keep going (Ps. 37:1-9; Gal. 6:9) – Although Steve and his soldiers experienced many successes in their efforts to bring peace and stability to Tikrit, they also experienced many heart-breaking losses. Again and again, their best plans, greatest efforts and noble sacrifices were thwarted by opponents who fought from the shadows and cared nothing about the innocent bystanders who suffered from their actions. During those times of loss and discouragement, Steve turned again and again to God through prayer and reflection on the many promises of Scripture that the Lord watches over those who put their trust in him and do not grow weary in doing good (“God-awareness and God-engagement”).

Even though you probably don’t face the kind of life-threatening dangers Steve and his soldiers encountered in Iraq, you can still follow his example in whatever challenges you encounter in daily life, whether in your marriage, as a parent, with co-workers or in your church. As David (one who experienced failure on all of these fronts) wrote thousands of years ago:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land (Psalm 37:1-9).

As you seek to apply these principles and promises in your life, please also pray that God will empower the relational principles we taught in our nation’s Capital two weeks ago and use them to bring encouragement and wisdom to the congressional, military and diplomatic leaders who call on his name every day as they seek to serve and lead others with integrity and righteousness.

~ Ken Sande

Reflection Questions:

  1. Correct others constructively: How do you respond when others make mistakes? Do you berate them and make them feel worse, or do you let them know you’ve made similar mistakes and then then guide them through a constructive learning process? (2 Tim. 2:24) The real test of these quality is whether people try to conceal their mistakes from you or willingly bring them to your attention.
  2. Be open (but not obnoxious) about your faith: How open are you about sharing your faith? (Luke 12:8) Do your neighbors and co-workers know that you are a follower of Christ, or do you deliberately keep a “low profile” on matters of faith? What does your openness about your faith say about your understanding of the gospel and your love for people who do not yet know Christ? What will you do differently this week to make your faith more evident to people around you?
  3. Communicate so clearly you cannot be misunderstood: Can you think of any conflicts in your family, church or workplace that were caused or aggravated by poor communication? To avoid those situations in the future, always remember: “It’s not good enough to communicate so that you can be understood. You must communicate so clearly that you cannot be misunderstood” (Col. 4:3-4) In what setting would this principle help you the most?
  4. Kindness opens doors: Think of a time when someone showed you an unexpected act of kindness. How did it make you feel toward that person? Did it move you to return kindness to that person or to others in your life? How does the kindness God reveals through the gospel lead us to repentance? How could he use your kindness toward others to lead them to repentance? (Eph. 4:32; Rom. 2:4)
  5. Let others get the glory: When you’ve been part of a group effort that has achieved great success, are you inclined to draw attention to yourself or to point to the contributions of others? (Phil. 2:3-4; Matt. 23:12) Think of someone who naturally plays down his or her own accomplishments and sincerely delights to see others get the glory. How does that attitude affect the productivity and morale of the groups that person works with? Who could you give appropriate credit to this week?
  6. Look out for the interests of others: Give an example of someone in your life who naturally looks out for the interests of others even when it means sacrificing some of his or her interests (Phil. 2:4). What benefits has the person experienced in the long run by putting others’ interests ahead of his or her own? Is there someone in your life whose interests you could advance this week even if it costs you something in the short-term?
  7. Weep with those who weep: Are you reluctant to shed tears in front of others? Why? What message does it send when you are tearless even when others are weeping? What message does it send when you imitate Jesus and “weep with those who week”? (Rom. 12:15; John 11:15)
  8. Trust in the Lord … and keep going: Think of a challenging or discouraging relationship in your life. How have you been tempted to respond? What will probably happen if you give into that temptation? What is more likely to happen if you follow the guidance of passages like Psalm 37:1-9 and Galatians 6:9? Which course of action is more likely to bring glory to God and reveal his presence and power in your life?

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2017 Ken Sande

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