“Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life!”
(I recently had the tremendous privilege of officiating the retirement of Chief Master Sergeant Mike Klintworth, a friend and warrior leader I served with in Afghanistan. This post is derived from my comments provided at his ceremony).
Whether we’re talking about business or politics, we’re surrounded by distressing examples of leadership.
In fact, a recent Harvard University poll reveals people’s faith and confidence in leaders is at an all-time low.
The fact is, we have too few examples of great leadership.
Today, however, we have the privilege of celebrating someone who epitomizes leadership … someone whose life reflects a heart of service and commitment to faith, family, friends, and certainly those who wear Air Force blue.
Let me share a couple nuggets from the Chief’s career that help reinforce my point…all taken from his performance reports.
Now to be fair, I could focus on all of Mike’s many awards…Airmen, NCO, SNCO of the Year, wing, NAF and MAJCOM level awards, but I won’t.
- I could highlight his being selected as the Top Air Traffic Trainer in the Nation—that would be America, not just the military—but I won’t;
- Or I could focus on the dozen of times he was singled out for his commitment to serving others in the community by supporting special Olympics, muscular dystrophy, partners in education, and more…but I won’t;
What I will share are a couple of my favorite lines from his astounding record of performance over almost 28 years of service that reinforce what a RARE BREED of leader this Chief really is:
- In his second performance report as a young airmen, his supervisor writes: “In 22 years and 9 bases I have NEVER seen this caliber of leadership.”
- One of his early commanders writes, “Most knowledgeable and dedicated Airman I have seen in my career.”
- One of my personal favorite lines is “ALARMINGLY INTELLIGENT” leader – this from a Captain who must have quickly realized he would be very smart to watch, listen and learn all he needed to know about leadership from Airman Klintworth.
- “Simply the best SNCO I have seen among any of the 13 nations that I have worked with,” this from a flight commander.
- “Finest leader and warrior I have seen in 21 years of service,” from Mike’s squadron Commander.
And the list goes on…and on…and on…
With such an amazing and sustained list of exceptional performance, we are left wondering what is this man’s secret to an astoundingly successful career and incredible effectiveness as a leader? I have come to believe it comes down to a single word: Love
Not just any love, however. A very particular kind of love we term Agape Love…or self-sacrificial, others-oriented love…that places service to others as the foremost priority in one’s life.
The source for this definition of love derives from Chief Klintworth’s favorite book—what we both believe to be the greatest life and leadership handbook ever written—the Bible.
The most famous passage addressing this internal drive to selflessly serve others is written by Saint Paul and found in Chapter 13 of 1st Corinthians. Here is a part from that chapter that most of us are familiar with:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Now I get we’re more likely to hear the passage quoted at a wedding than a battlefield or boardroom, but I am convinced it belongs there too. In fact, I would argue now more than ever.
What few people realize is that the passages immediately before and after the verses I shared with you talk about leadership and the power of working together. Love, the author Paul is saying, is the motivating force behind living and leading our lives in a more excellent way. Whether it is in our marriages, our personal and professional relationships, our workplace, or our worship space, love is what propels successful leaders like Mike to constantly be and do their best in service to others.
The easiest way to see why I believe this to be true is to simply substitute “a leader” for “love” in the above quote.
A leader is kind, that is, they choose to build, not break. They believe the best and want the best for others and as such, are patient, gracious, and forgiving.
A leader is not arrogant or envious, they choose to give more than they take. Nothing will ruin your leadership—or your life—like pride or envy. The greatest leaders recognize this and choose to focus less on what they have to lose or what they have to offer and more on the gifts and strengths they can liberate and highlight in others. They appreciate that a leader’s arrogance and envy can paralyze a whole organization.
A leader is not provoked, they aren’t easily angered. How a leader responds to external and internal challenges speaks volume of their character. When they allow anger to dominate the emotional landscape of their leadership, they create a culture of fear and intimidation. This paralyzes people in place, stealing initiative and robbing joy. Conversely, great leaders like Mike are emotionally intelligent, willfully exercising the awareness, patience and restraint that reinforces a climate of empowerment, engagement, and excitement.
A leader does not seek his or her own, they opt to honor others rather than merely promote themselves. The research is clear in pointing out how people join and give their best to teams where they are appreciated and celebrated. When people believe their leader is more others-centered than self-centered, amazing things happen.
A leader is resilient, they persevere. Leaders are busy. They routinely deal with distraction, deception, and discouragement. As such, they can quickly become overwhelmed unless they exercise the perspective, self-discipline, and intrinsic motivation to bend but not break when things around them get tough.
None of what I have shared with you is new. But it’s all tested and true. And Mike Klintworth is living testimony to the power of love to leave a lasting legacy of leadership success and selfless service.
Thank you Mike for setting an example we all can strive to emulate. Thank you for your ceaseless dedication to our nation and those men and women you have faithfully served, in peacetime and wartime, for almost three decades.
America, our Air Force, your community, your friends, and above all, your family, are better for your tireless commitment to leading with love. Thank you for sharing your selfless brand with the world at a time when it is needed most.