Exceptional Release Presents Leader’s Love: Transforming Crisis into Opportunity in the Wake of COVID-19
By Lt David Lane
I was nine years old watching cartoons with my two older brothers when my dad barked those two infamous words: “Family Meeting!” The hair on our necks jolted to the position of attention. We were old enough to know this meant one of us–probably me–hadn’t picked up our dirty socks… again. Or we had eaten all my dad’s Lucky Charms… again. It was neither. No, it was much worse. With a smirk on his face my dad exclaimed, “Christmas is cancelled.”
We gasped and our jaws locked in place as our adolescent brains tried to process the gravity of the proclamation. You may be thinking, “There are not enough dirty socks in the world to be left on the floor and not enough Lucky Charms to be eaten for a father to cancel Christmas!”
As our tear ducts began to churn, my father continued, “Well, not canceled, but it’s going to look a bit different this year. We are taking a trip.” Our ears perked up with hints of hope as we subdued our initial thoughts of dread and dismay.
I immediately began to run through the potential destinations; would it be Disney World, maybe a cruise, or maybe even an African safari? I was wrong on all accounts. “We are heading to Louisiana and are going to spend the week cleaning houses.” This family meeting was a roller coaster ride of emotions.
In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana. It claimed over 1,200 lives, and thousands of others were without electricity, running water, or homes. Houses that weren’t destroyed were filled with several feet of mud and debris. My dad, a man of deep compassion and a heart for serving others, felt compelled to do something.
The family meeting continued with my dad explaining the situation down south: families that wouldn’t spend Christmas in their own homes and kids that wouldn’t wake up to presents under the tree. He said we, as a family, were going to spend the week of Christmas helping storm-devastated families clean out their homes.
It didn’t take long for us to get excited about this prospect, and we began to tell our friends at school. Those friends then told their parents. Before my dad knew it, he was leading over 40 members from our community on a trip to serve the affected population in Louisiana. The trip was so successful, he led a second trip over spring break, and over 60 people from our community joined in the adventure.
I don’t claim to be an expert on leadership; I’m still a lieutenant trying to figure out how to earn the salute of the enlisted men and women who have been serving since I was in diapers. However, in my short experience, I’ve come to believe all the conventional leadership traits, so many experts contend are critical to success pale in comparison to this one: love. Before you begin with the sighs, I don’t mean the romantic, buy-the-girl-chocolate-on-Valentine’s-Day love, or the “I love pizza” kind of love, (although both are important in their own way).
I’ve come to believe all the conventional leadership traits, so many experts contend are critical to success pale in comparison to this one: love.
Rather, I mean the type of love that sees clearly and responds effectively. The type of love that empathizes with the plight of others and selflessly reacts with pragmatic service. The type of love that uses discipline–not as an excuse to assert power, but as a tool to guide another toward a more gratifying and fruitful life — because their inherent worth is what fuels your genuine concern for them. The type of love that sacrifices your present happiness for others’ future joy. The type of love that can envision what ought to be, then communicate and implement strategies to get there. The type of love that is contagious and spreads through a community like wildfire.
This is the type of love my father demonstrated in that infamous family meeting, and this is the type of love the military ought to cultivate in its leaders. My father saw a need in the wreckage of a hurricane, and he used it as an opportunity to love his kids and community by showing them the joy that comes from sacrificial service and selfless compassion. Love may not always look or feel good at first. In fact, it may look like having to tell your kids that Christmas is canceled. But love genuinely desires the best for all involved without concern for one’s own interests; after all, my dad sacrificed his own Christmas break, too.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given the military its most ironic enemy — an invisible nemesis that can’t be killed by bombs and bullets, but by seclusion and sanitation. It’s a crisis of purpose; the military wants nothing more than to jump into action and attack. Yes, there is plenty of contingency planning and logistical work that can be done and is being done. However, for a large majority of the fighting force this enemy is teaching us a new lesson — to slow down, rest, and love our people in new and meaningful ways. In the wake of the pandemic, the critical question becomes “How do we transform a crisis into an opportunity to reassess our organizational priorities and processes to become a more effective fighting force?” I’d argue the answer starts with investing in our people by loving them.
In the Air Force, we are afraid to use the word love except when declaring our feelings for family days, deadline extensions, and coffee. What would happen if we began loving our people in the truest sense of the word?
Let’s reclaim love’s meaning and make it the new standard — because we are called to be leaders, and leaders do love.
About the author
Lt David Lane is a Logistics Readiness Officer stationed at MacDill AFB. He currently serves as the Distribution Flight Commander for the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron, directing the distribution of cargo, passengers and personal property for 2 Wings, 2 Combatant Commands and 52 Coalition Partners. His leadership efforts for his flight of 100+ military and civilian personnel are integral to supporting 24 KC-135’s valued at $1 billion and their mission to provide unmatched air refueling capabilities for the Department of Defense.
Featured photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tryphena Mayugh