The Hon. John Dalton, former Secretary of the Navy: Leadership from the Gospel
Please pray with me.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of our heart be always acceptable in thy sight, Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer. Amen.
It is a great honor and great privilege for me to be in this Canterbury pulpit, in this magnificent Cathedral as we honor the veterans of America. I am a veteran. I graduated from the Naval Academy in the great class of 1964 and served on two submarines. And on both of those submarines, one of my collateral duties on both submarines was to serve as the Protestant lay leader where I had the privilege of leading worship services when we were underway at sea. I’m proud that my two sons are also veterans: John Jr. served for seven years in the Navy as a surface warfare officer on two ships and Chris served as a helicopter pilot and served nine years in the Marine Corps. His wife, Kelly, was also a Navy helo pilot and her father served 30 years in the Navy as a jet pilot.
As we honor our veterans on this Sunday morning, it is important to realize that leadership is key to the success of any organization, and especially any military organization. When I assumed office in the Pentagon, I had a major leadership challenge on my hands. Shortly after becoming Secretary of the Navy, a minister from California sent me a list, unsolicited, of eight specific leadership traits that he and his staff drew from Chapter 27, which we just read, of the Book of Acts in the New Testament. In a succinct way, I believe these traits are essential to leadership. This is a card entitled The Timeless Traits of Leadership which I have given to Sailors and Marines all over the world. I will be happy to give one of these to you after the service if you like. On the back of this card are these traits that have stood the test of time. The list is as follows:
A leader Is Trusted
A Leader Takes The Initiative
A Leader Uses Good Judgment
A Leader Speaks With Authority
A Leader Strengthens Others
A Leader Is Optimistic and Enthusiastic
A Leader Never Compromises Absolutes and
A Leader Leads by Example
The Bible recalls that the apostle Paul, who was a Roman citizen, who was arrested and demanded to be tried in Rome, which was his right as a Roman citizen, rather than be condemned as a heretic in Caesarea. In the account, Paul and his followers are prisoners of the Roman centurion and his troops as they set sail across the Mediterranean Sea for Rome. During the voyage, the weather badly deteriorates and the centurion does not heed Paul’s advice to remain in port. The ship sails and runs into a terrible storm and the ship was destroyed. There was no loss of life and no injuries as a result of Paul’s great leadership. Instead of simply recounting Paul’s experience to give examples of these traits, I encourage you to read the 27th Chapter of Acts yourself and find these traits. Some are obvious; some are subtle, but they’re all there. Instead, I would like to tell you about a variety of veterans and heroes who have demonstrated some of these traits.
The first trait is: a leader is trusted. President Jimmy Carter personifies trust. He was successful with the Camp David Peace Accords, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and in preserving peace in Korea, Haiti, and many other places, and he continues to serve the cause of peace in the world today because he is so honest and straightforward that he is genuinely trusted. By the way, he turned 93 on October 1st, and he’s still going strong.
A leader takes the initiative. Carpe diem, or seize the day, has always been a fundamental tenet of leadership. Leaders feel a sense of urgency in whatever they do. They don’t want to put off until tomorrow, what they can do today. For example, Admiral James Stockdale while a POW in Vietnam for some eight years, while he was there, he initiated a communication system for the prisoners so that they could remain in touch with each other, which significantly enhanced the morale of the POWs.
Good judgment is also critical to leadership. Yet judgment is a trait built over time. Good judgment is often developed in the wake of having used bad judgment. We heard from Sec. West about President Eisenhower making Armistice Day, Veterans Day. General Dwight David Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. D-Day was scheduled for June 5, 1944. The weather was so bad that it was impossible to launch the offensive that day. The weather was iffy for June 6. General Eisenhower assembled all of his lieutenants and asked each of them their advice. They were split 50/50. He heard each of their arguments and made the decision, “Let’s go!” Had they not gone on June 6th, they would’ve lost the element of surprise. The good judgment of General Eisenhower changed the course of history, and World War II was over in 15 months.
The next trait is at the heart of a leader’s personality. A leader speaks with authority. A leader needs to have sufficient confidence in what he or she is saying so that followers will be convinced. When I assumed office as the Secretary of the Navy, I asked Admiral Arleigh Burke, who had been Chief of Naval Operations or CNO when I was a Midshipmen, to administer the oath of office to me.
When Arleigh Burke was CNO he began a project to build the first fleet ballistic missile nuclear-powered submarine. Both the Polaris missile and the nuclear-powered submarine were brand new weapon systems. He wanted to combine the two systems. He needed the convince the civilian government leadership including the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the President, and the Congress and the Navy itself that the program was a top priority. He spoke with authority, and the authority of his presentation carried the day. That major new weapon system that revolutionized submarine warfare and was a major contributor to ending the Cold War. As a matter of fact, Gen. Colin Powell was serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after the Cold War was over and one of the questions was, which weapons system was most responsible for ending the Cold War. Without hesitation, he said “the fleet ballistic missile nuclear submarine”.
A leader strengthens others. That trait involves the active encouragement of others to be, as the Army recruiting ad used to say “All you can be!” At the bottom of this leadership card is a quote from Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick who was Superintendent at Annapolis when I was a midshipman. It reads, “You can do anything you set your mind to do, and don’t you forget it.” Admiral Kirkpatrick used to beat that into our heads. He told us that every time he had a group of midshipmen assembled, whether it was a group of 8 or 10, or a company or battalion, or a whole brigade of midshipman, he would always say: “You can do anything you set your mind to do, and don’t you forget it.”
It is true. He strengthened us, he made us believe in ourselves, and indeed he was a great leader.
Another great military leader who strengthened others was General Henry “Hap” Arnold, who was the first Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force and the only officer to achieve the rank of five stars in two services. He was also so encouraging to other that he was called the “Happy Officer” and earned the nickname of “Hap” Arnold.
A leader remains optimistic and enthusiastic. I think to be an effective leader, you have to see the glass as half full – and not half empty. Optimism and enthusiasm are infectious. And, the opposite is true as well. Optimism and enthusiasm overcome the greatest challenges. Speaking of overcoming challenges, Marine General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller was once surrounded by the enemy in the Korean War and he told his troops, “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us… They can’t get away from us this time!” He and his men prevailed, and he is the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
A leader never compromises absolutes. The Apostle Paul certainly didn’t in spreading his message. He knew the hazards of the journey. Defense of American freedom and obedience to the Constitution of the United States are two absolutes our veterans have lived by, and for which many faced death.
The final quality on the list of leadership traits is example. The best leaders need fewer words than most because they lead with their lives.
I would like to read a poem by Edgar A. Guest entitled “Sermons We See.”
I’d rather see a sermon
than hear one any day,
I’d rather one would walk with me
than merely tell the way;
The eye’s a better pupil
and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing,
but example’s always clear;
The best of all the preachers
are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action
is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it,
if you’ll let me see it done,
I can watch your hands in action,
your tongue too fast may run;
The lectures you deliver
may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons
by observing what you do;
I may not understand
the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding
how you act and how you live.
These eight traits of leadership give me comfort to know that there is a path… a course in leadership that is already marked. The Apostle Paul walked that path and sailed that course two thousand years ago. It’s there for each one of us today.
Margaret and I love this Cathedral and when we come to worship here we come to hear the gospel. I want to share with you some special verses that are very meaningful to me, and I hope they will be to you:
John 3:16-17: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 10:10b: 10 I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full, or in the King James Version… “have it more abundantly.”
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the eighth chapter:
1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble, or hardship, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Matthew 22: 36-40 (KJV)
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus somewhat of a trick question.
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Finally, and this is where I am.
Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
12 Not as though I had already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect: but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 I do not consider myself to have yet to have taken hold of it: but one thing I do, forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize, for which God has called me to heaven.
This morning the choir sang beautifully Psalm 20. I encourage you to read those words again, and that is my prayer for you.
We have all heard the good news of the gospel. We all need to do our best to live it every day. If so, we will have the full, abundant life today, and look forward to enjoying eternal life tomorrow.
By following Paul’s traits of leadership, we can help others enjoy it, too. God bless you… God bless the veterans of this great land and God bless America!