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The compassionate leader

Posted 12/11/2008   Updated 12/11/2008 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Lt. Col. Shannon Klug
30th Weather Squadron Commander

12/11/2008 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- First things first. Everyone is a leader. Everyone has the power to influence others. Therefore, what I have to say applies to everyone. 

No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. Trite ... but true, if you stop and think about it. That's compassion. Leaders gain legitimacy by paying thoughtful attention to the needs of their Airmen. In turn, Airmen readily accomplish the mission. Teams function best when they have camaraderie, which is built on compassion for one another. It is like cement that bonds the team together. Without a dose of compassion, no team can achieve greatness. In other words, it behooves leaders to have compassion and foster it within their units. 

Compassion is an essential counterbalance to discipline. Gen. John Michael Loh, writing on the responsibility of leadership in command, stated that, "Commanders must understand when to administer discipline and compassion, and not get the two mixed up." Compassion means taking the time to appreciate another person's concerns, motivations and ideas ... to put yourself in their shoes. Likewise, one of the most compassionate things a leader can do is ensure their followers understand the importance of the mission and their contribution to its success. 

Military compassion may seem like an oxymoron. However, the profession of arms is chock-full of compassion. I believe it's because sometimes the worst in life brings out the best in people. Many poignant examples come from war zones. In my opinion, one of the most compassionate images of Operation Iraqi Freedom is that of Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt sleeping in a chair while cradling an injured Iraqi girl because he was the only one who could calm her down. Medevac units are another example of extreme compassion in the military. These units treat battlefield injuries without question and are blind to the nationality of their patients. A little compassion can go a long way toward helping folks forget, for a time, an unpleasant situation. When I was in Baghdad, I was overwhelmed by the compassion of the American people in support of the troops. The outpouring of care-packages from family, friends, schools, church-groups corporations, etc., was humbling. I never wanted for a piece of chocolate or a tube of toothpaste. 

Closer to home, is compassion intertwined into your daily life? It should be. Compassion is an essential ingredient to being a good Wingman. It's about being non-judgmental of friends and co-workers while letting them know they can depend on you. It's covering a shift for someone that needs some special time with his or her family. It's being a sounding board for a friend that needs someone to talk to. It's taking care of those around us in little ways everyday. 

We are living in uncertain times and certainly feeling the ripple effects of world events in our globalized society. The health of our economy and our national security are in question. Reaching out to people is the way to build bridges across cultures and lifestyles. It helps us to realize that our humanity transcends gender, race, age and religion. It will take compassionate leadership across every walk of life to help us weather the storms of our generation.

(Editor's note: For more on "Compassion," click here.)

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