Second-mile leadership -- selfless service

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) John Kinney
  • 319th Air Refueling Wing chaplain
Integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do are the Air Force core values. 

Integrity is being totally honest with self and others -- transparency. Service before self strengthens that honesty. Excellence respects the resources placed in our care -- people, goods and mission. The second-mile leader sees these values as the beginning and says, "there is still more each person can do." Yes, that which is more is discovered when we go beyond the core values and instill enthusiasm, strength and hope in others. 

Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist, said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Ms. Mead sums up for us what going beyond core values and making a difference in the life of another transforms the world around us. 

In September of 1862, the Civil War tilted in favor of the South; leaders began to fear the worst. Large numbers of Union troops were in full retreat in Virginia. They saw no way to reverse the situation and turn the exhausted troops into a useful army. Only one general might work a miracle, General George B. McClellan. He trained the men for combat, and they loved and admired him. The War Department didn't see this, nor the Cabinet; only President Lincoln did. 

Fortunately, Lincoln ignored the protests of advisors and put McClellan in command. He told him to go down to Virginia and instill a sense of enthusiasm, strength, and hope in the soldiers. McClellan accepted the command, mounted his horse and cantered down the dusty roads of Virginia. What happened next is hard to explain. 

McClellan met the retreating Army. He waved his cap in the air and shouted words of encouragement. When the tired men saw their beloved teacher, they began to take heart and knew things could be different. Bruce Catton, Civil War historian, describes the excitement that grew, "Down mile after mile of Virginia roads the stumbling columns came alive, threw caps and knapsacks into the air, and yelled until they could yell no more . . . because they saw this dapper little rider outlined against the purple starlight. 
And this ... was the turning point of the war.... No one could ever quite explain it." 

McClellan gave Lincoln and the North what was needed. History changed for the better--no longer would slavery be part of the American scene. General McClellan illustrated the impact a second mile leader has on the human spirit when instilled with enthusiasm, strength and hope--change for the better emerges. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Our chief want in life is somebody who can make us do what we can." A second mile leader does this. We cannot trigger the great potential that lies within. We are like Aladdin's lamp found on the seashore; we have a magnificent genie inside, but that genie can't get out by itself. Nor can we release it. We need an Aladdin to come along, pull the cork and free the genie. 

Emerson continues, "That is the service of a friend." It illustrates what Napoleon said about his power to spark something in hearts. He said: "The lightning of my eye, my voice, a word from me, then the sacred fire was kindled in their hearts. I do, indeed, possess the secret of this magical power that lifts the soul." Napoleon possessed that power. What does this power to inspire mean? Second mile leaders are the friends who fire us up, excite us, inflame our emotions and electrify our imaginations. 

If we are to change, change must come through our own efforts because we alone hold the key. According to Anne Frank, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." Despite the horrors she and her family experienced during World War II, Frank identified the power we have to make good things happen. 

Selfless acts produce feelings of deep satisfaction. Appreciation, or going the second mile, is the greatest of rewards. When we lift another's spirit, we ask why we don't do it more often. 

At our core, we know we are called to make a difference. Lee Iacocca, American businessman who revived Chrysler Corporation in the 1980s, said, "The thing that lies at the foundation of positive change, the way I see it, is service to a fellow human being." Tony Robbins, American self-help writer, says, "Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life's deepest joy: true fulfillment." 

When somebody is in need, an impulse surfaces within. It's at this moment we choose to act or not. Thoughts of a busy day ahead, or uncertainty, sneak in and cloud our decision to act. And then it's gone. However, selfless acts performed consciously with thought-out intention amplify the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. We become aware of being truly alive and in the moment. Our heart beats with a sense of lift and energy. We sense greater purpose and significance. Giving selflessly in what others regard as an impossible situation we know we must ask, "What can I do to make things better?" 

Many groups and organizations around Grand Forks Air Force Base make a difference through giving their time, talents and treasures. Our chapel community volunteers time and donates money to many charitable causes. Nearly 175 volunteers donate time and treasure of over $182,000 each year. This is only a drop in the bucket of all that goes on in our Wing; yet this too is making a difference by lifting the spirit of those in need. 

Our selfless service to others as second mile leaders and friends attracts others to do the same. When selfless acts happen to us, we receive them with a sense of joy. This way of living instills enthusiasm, strength and hope and is the model of how we believe we must live each day.