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The Uncomfortable Calling of Servant Leadership

By August 25, 2020No Comments

In June of 2017, one of my soldiers shared with me his recent three failed suicide attempts, all within six months. This soldier did not believe that his suffering mattered or that he mattered. I immediately knew that this was him pleading for help; that he was looking for someone to show him that what he was feeling was inaccurate.

I cannot articulate how uncomfortable I felt in this moment, but I deliberately chose to accept it because of the importance of the situation. I committed to fighting for him and I was determined to show him that his belief that he did not matter, was untrue. 

Together, we fought for his will to live, utilizing all the known resources, including my personal experience in learning how to value myself while feeling hopeless and overwhelmed by my burdens. But I knew my efforts alone would not be enough. He needed a team to provide him with evidence that he did matter. 

So, that is what I did. I formed a team of eight soldiers who wanted nothing more than the opportunity to help him fight for his will to live. Every day for almost three months, at least one person from the team would talk with him and report any changes back to the team. 

Many tears were shed over late night phone calls between him and I. But I refused to quit, and our team refused to quit fighting for him.  

This team deserves much of the credit in the fact that, today this soldier is not just surviving, he is thriving. 

What I did not know then was that by embracing the initial discomfort I had felt and by making the deliberate decision to support him in his time of need, would be a catalyst to begin to understand and accept myself for who I authentically am, as well as rapid personal growth.

What I did not know then was by making a deliberate decision to support him and embrace the initial discomfort I had felt would have such an impact. It would become the catalyst for personal growth in becoming more understanding and authentic.

I remember the exact moment I realized the journey had started. It was a hot summer evening, even with my vehicle’s air conditioning on full blast. I had just completed the final day of my two-week Annual Training with the Utah Army National Guard. It was during this time that I first learned of this soldier’s suffering. In that hot car ride, I still remember the strong emotional pain I felt as I imagined a future without him in it.

I cried. 

I cried a lot.

To distract myself emotionally, I began listening to an audiobook I had been meaning to finish called “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” by Liz Wiseman. In her book she says that there are two types of leaders: Multipliers and Diminishers. To summarize the book in one sentence: “Multipliers” are leaders rather than a boss, that get twice the capability from those they lead than “Diminishers”. 

It was on that drive home I committed to being a better leader; to be a “Multiplier”. I was going to be the leader my soldier needed throughout his suffering, no matter how long that would be. I promised myself I would not quit on him. I was not quite sure how to be the leader that he needed but, I knew that I could lead him by serving him and by unconditionally loving him for who he was.

On my birthday, Christmas Eve of 2019, my soldier gave me a gift. Upon opening his gift, I was puzzled. It was the flag of England. He then proceeded to remind me of its significance.

In the summer of 2016, our annual training was in Germany. On a chilly Saturday afternoon, a friendly soccer match was being played on TV between Germany and England. We found our way into an American Bar that was open and broadcasting the match. Inside this bar, were two drunk British soccer fans who seemed destined to end up in a fight by the end of the match. One of them was wearing the flag of England across his shoulders as if he were Superman. They found the fight they were looking for and as the chaos erupted. We put up a fight, both of us sober, and I somehow convinced him to take Superman’s cape (the British flag) and we left the bar.

Later that night, at a different karaoke bar, I would find him passed out in a bathroom stall, wedged between the toilet and wall choking on his own vomit. I had arrived just before it was too late.

As he reminded me of this day in Germany, I thought his gift was a sweet sentiment to a memory we both shared. But I was not ready for what he said next.

He said, “This flag is from the night the first time you saved my life. Twice you have saved my life and I would not be here if it weren’t for you.”

Again, I cried.

But this time I cried tears of joy. I never thought I would have such an influence on a human life.

Since that night in 2016, he has become more than just my soldier. He is my brother. I love him. I love him the same as I love my own biological brothers. He is the only male in my life that I say “I love you” to after every single phone call. My own children share that same love for him calling him  uncle.

I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to serve one of my brothers-in-arms for many reasons. It has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. But what one of the most unexpected things I am grateful for, is how this service opportunity was truly life changing for myself.

Through this experience, I have found my purpose or my calling in this life. I now live my life to be of service to others. 

To live my life in any other manner, is to live a life of self-betrayal.