Year of Leadership: Three "C's" of leadership include compassion

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Maj.) Keith Muschinske
  • 341st Missile Wing Chaplain
Compassion - the theme for December during this Air Force Space Command Year of Leadership. Compassion -- an attribute of military leadership. Compassion? 

"OK," you may be saying, "I get why a chaplain is writing this article. After all, a chaplain must have compassion somewhere in his or her resume, but ... the rest of us? What kind of military leader includes compassion in their personal arsenal?" 

How about a military leader like Gen. Douglas MacArthur, he of the famous "I shall return" utterance? I can't think of a better quote to connect the two threads of this article -- leadership and compassion -- than what General MacArthur said: "A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions and the compassion to listen to the needs of others." 

Those are pretty good "C's"-- the three C's of leadership: confidence, courage and compassion. But what's all this, then, about compassion? That sounds like a 50-cent (or is it fifty bucks by now?) word that's rarely used in everyday conversation. Here are some definitions of compassion: 1. a deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering; 2. the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it; 3. understanding without judgment; 4. the desire to help when a need is discovered. Those are just a few Googled definitions. Choose your favorite. 

Here's one more: "Compassion is basic respect for the dignity of each individual; treating all with dignity and respect. It is the personification of the 'Golden Rule' -- treat others as you want them to treat you." 

Make sense? 

Still make sense when you learn that is the definition of compassion found in the U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 100-1? Yep, added to the 1994 edition. And now we've come full circle--back to the inclusion of compassion in the arsenal of military leaders, in YOUR arsenal as a military leader. Each and every one of you. "Every Airman is a leader." 

"OK, chaplain," you may be saying about now, "but what about the cost of compassion? I may be aware of another's suffering or needs and I may want to do something about it, but have you been watching that roller coaster they call the stock market these days? I don't know about you, but there seems to be a recession swirling around me! Brother, I can't spare a buck!" 

Fair enough. But while there isn't a one-size-fits-all follow up to that response there is this example of a one-story-fits-all cost of compassion: 

A certain bank on base (no Federal endorsement intended) participated in a "bank challenge" to collect food for the Great Falls food bank in October. One day a young one-striper stopped by to cash his $100 birthday check from "back home." He saw the "big red bucket" and asked what it was for. He was told it was to collect food for the food bank and he said, "I'll be back later" and left. Returning that very afternoon, it took him four trips back and forth to his car to bring in the nine cases of food he put into that bucket. In his parting comment he told the bank employees he was only going to buy a video game with his birthday check anyway and he didn't need that as much as the "kids out there" needed food. 

Maybe you don't have $1,000 to spend on compassion, or don't think you do. Maybe you don't have $100, or don't think you do. But compassion is not just about the money. If you agree with General MacArthur and the significance of his three C's; if you agree with the U.S. Army Field Manual's reference to the "golden rule", there are costs of compassion that all Airman leaders can afford: basic respect for the dignity of each individual; a deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering; a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another or to show special kindness to those who suffer;and the desire to help when a need is discovered. 

Confidence. Courage. We talk about those leadership attributes often, but don't forget compassion. You--we--the United States Air Force--can't afford to forget compassion.
Compassion--it's well worth the cost.