My all time favourite TV series is M*A*S*H, a comedy/drama centred around the doctors and nurses of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit during the Korean War. The series was so poplular that it outlasted the duration of the 3 year war, spanning 11 seasons and 251 episodes.

The strong characterisation and story lines presented thought provoking themes that provide the ideal platform for lessons on life and leadership. Whether you are a fan of the show or not, I'm sure you will connect with my leadership insights from M*A*S*H.

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES features bite-sized, candid insights that speak into the gritty space of leadership through the eyes of a fellow leader seeking to "lead with all diligence" (Romans 12:8).

Friday, October 21, 2016

Paralysed By Failure

Episode 61:  Mad Dogs And Servicemen

Frank:     That man is a psycho and for some perverted reason these two want to play games with him.
Hawkeye:    We are just following Sid Freedman’s advice.
Trapper:    You get a soldier who has hysterical paralysis and you treat him as though he is really paralysed and he’ll become sick just to rationalise the guilt of leaving his buddies at the front.
Hawkeye:    Sid feels if you take a patient like that back to a nice clean hospital it just deepens the guilt.  You send him home and it sets it in concrete. 
Trapper:    Yeah, he has been treating his patients as close to the front as possible with the idea that they will return to their unit.
Hawkeye:    Otherwise, they get sent stateside and one moment’s failure on the battlefield becomes a lifetime disability.

A GI is brought in by ambulance suffering from hysterical paralysis. Hawkeye attempts to treat him with a new method being used by Psychiatrist Sidney Freedman, against the protests of Frank Burns and Margaret Houlihan who question his condition.

I am sure most of us understand what it means ‘to be paralysed by fear’; to be so terrified of something, real or perceived, that you are unable to move.  Imagine being paralysed by failure; to be crippled by your mistakes to the point where you can no longer function.  This is a critical condition for any leader because failure comes with the territory! Identifying “failure as an indispensable, irreplaceable part of learning and growth,” John Ortberg stresses “failure does not shape you; the way you respond to failure shapes you.”  So, you can choose to allow failure to paralyse you or propel you towards new discoveries.  Don’t allow a moment of failure become a lifetime of disability.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Loyal To A Fault

Episode 60:  A Full Rich Day

Hawkeye:   Smithy, I’m going to have to go serious on you about this thing.  We have a different perspective on the war as a whole than I think is possible for you.  To a line officer with 30-40 guys lives depending upon him, and your life depending upon them; the war is not some big geo-political conflict between nations and ideologies.  It’s not just China and America sticking their tongues out at each other.  To you there’s maybe 30-40 guys in that high grass out there trying to kill me and my 30-40 guys.  It’s that concentrated.  To you that’s the entire war…But it’s something else in our little heaven.  To us the war is trying very hard to control chaos.  We are up to our bottoms in other people’s bottoms here.  We can’t afford the same kind of fierce personal loyalties that you and Sergeant Brian feel for each other.  Can you understand that?...It’s the size of the wound, who’s bleeding the most buckets who we give priority to.  It’s the only place I know that being the worst is the best.

Hawkeye records a message to his dad about the events of a very eventful day.  Among the variety of casualties presenting to the 4077th is an infantry soldier who demands the doctors treat his friend first by threatening them at gunpoint.

While loyalty to a leader or a team is a highly valued virtue in any organisation, there are times when blind loyalty can distort our view of reality and become a liability.  I’ve worked in teams where loyalty to long standing relationships has compromised right decisions or covered-up wrong behaviour.  In both cases truth and integrity became casualties of blind loyalty.  In contrast, John Maxwell says “loyalty means giving me an honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not.”  From this position loyalty becomes more about faithfulness than friendship and the priority of leadership stays focused on the grander vision rather than allowing personal agendas making us vulnerable to being loyal to a fault.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Keep Them Engaged

Episode 59:  Adam’s Rib

Hawkeye:    I didn’t hear you say that.  Because it isn’t possible.  It’s inhuman to serve the same food day after day.  The Geneva Convention prohibits the killing of our taste buds.  I simply cannot eat the same food every day.  Fish, liver, day after day.  I’ve eaten a river of liver and an ocean of fish.  I’ve eaten so much fish I’m ready to grow gills.  I’ve eaten so much liver I can only make love if I’m covered in bacon and onions.  Are we going to stand for this?!  Are we going to let them do this to us?!  No, I say, NO!!  We’re not going to eat this drab anymore!  We want something else!

Hawkeye is enraged by being served the same food week after week and demands for something different.  His desire for a change inspires him to place a takeout order for spareribs from Chicago all the way to Korea.

As a preacher, week after week I have the responsibility to prepare and deliver messages that will inspire and inform a diverse group of people how to integrate biblical truth with everyday life.  In order to keep my congregation interested my content must be relevant and my delivery engaging, otherwise they will zone out or look elsewhere.  Whether you are a teacher or preacher, coach or mentor, facilitator or consultant, the creative tension between content and delivery is the space that must be managed by all effective communicators.  In my experience, great messages can be equally compromised if the speaker is all charisma with little content or has great content without any passion.  In an age of sensory overload our audience won’t tolerate being anaesthetized by either. So be well prepared, stay energized and keep them engaged.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Professional Partnerships


Episode 58:  There Is Nothing Like A Nurse

Trapper:   [Tension in the OR without the nurses] My kingdom for a  nurse!
Radar:     I’m doing my best.
Trapper:   Radar, if you don’t start handing me the instruments in  the right way, I’m going to cut you off at the knees.
Henry:     Klinger, you’re standing in my light.
Klinger:   Whatever I do is no good!
Hawkeye:   Let’s keep those sponges coming Father, nurse is also a  verb.

The threat of an enemy invasion leads to the evacuation of all the nurses from the 4077.  Camp morale is low and the tensions in O.R. high as the doctors try to cope without the nurse’s expertise and companionship.

Throughout 20 years of leadership serving alongside my wife we have developed a professional partnership in our ministry.  Together we make a great team that intuitively complements each other’s gifts and abilities.  However, when one of us is missing for any length of time the other is left second guessing counter-intuitive roles that fall outside our normal areas of responsibility.  If there is one thing we have learned about leadership, it is that it is not a solo activity.  We need each other.  We need competent people with complementary gifts to partner in pursuing a shared vision and common purpose.  This is true for any team and leadership context. Sue Mallory advocates this strongly:  “A team is a group of uniquely gifted players with a common purpose. Each player has a responsibility and is given the authority to carry it out. As team members they are fully and jointly accountable to one another and to the team’s results.”

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Managing Demands Of Leadership


Episode 57:  Alcoholics Unanimous

Frank Burns:   There’s just no question, you’re alcoholics!  You              drink constantly.
Hawkeye:       Alright, we drink.  We drink so we can get through            these lousy, stinking 48 hour days.
Trapper:       We’re cold, filthy, lonely.
Hawkeye:       Scared, bored, tired!

Acting commanding officer, Frank Burns, declares prohibition at the 4077th in response to the growing alcohol use in camp.  His dismantling of the ‘still’ and his one man campaign to outlaw alcohol causes havoc among the personnel as they try anything to sneak a drink.

How do you cope with the demands of leadership?  For some, a helpful escape comes in the form of a good book or watching a favourite movie.  For others, engaging in exercise and physical activity relieves the tension.  However, statistically it is well documented that many seek relief from the stress and demands of leadership through the consumption of alcohol.  While this may bring temporary relief, health experts believe that alcohol can actually exacerbate stress and diminish long term capacity to cope under pressure.  In the context of leadership this can be dangerous!  Trying to deal with the stressors that come with the territory through any substance use not only impacts our ability to personally cope with the challenges but risks our capacity to professionally lead others through the same challenges.  Alcohol may ‘mask’ the reality but cannot ‘mitigate’ the responsibilities of leadership.  Leaders must build healthy strategies and networks to effectively ‘manage’ this space.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Change Of Calling?


Episode 56:  Life With Father

Father:    [Reading a letter from his sister] Kathy, Kathy, Kathy.                    How could you think of such a thing?
Henry:     [Bursting into Father Mulcahy’s tent] Father, I’ve got                    to talk to you about my wife.
Father:     My sister wants to leave the order…She’s such a        
            fantastic nun. I’d stack her up against any nun in the  
            business…God smiled on her from the start. Imagine a 
            basketball scholarship at the Holy Name Academy. She’s 
            been teaching. She loves children. Now she thinks she 
            might like one of her own…Now she wants my approval. I 
            don’t know what to tell her. I don’t know what to say.

Father Mulcahy is busy attending to the diverse spiritual needs of different faiths in the camp at the same time trying to come to terms with his sisters desire to leave the ministry.  While performing a circumcision on a Jewish baby he realises that the joy of motherhood is just as legitimate a calling for his sister.

There exists within my spirit a deep tension every time I hear about one of my colleagues leaving the ministry!  I cannot hide my disappointment in losing godly and competent leaders who exchange their calling or vocation for another direction.  Are they right or are they wrong?  That is not mine to judge!  My disappointment lies in the loss of good leaders who have the capacity to lead great change from within our organisation.  While there are many reasons why people change career paths or even pursue their calling through alternative pathways, I wonder how the following questions are reconciled:  Is a calling conditional upon circumstances?  Should our own purposes supersede a divine purpose?  When is it right to step outside of a covenant relationship?  In the context of Christian leadership Reggie McNeal asserts, “Christian leaders certain of their call allow it to become the centre of gravity for their life experiences.”  Whether your calling is secular or sacred it needs to be grounded upon a deep conviction that will remain steadfast through trials and resistant to the allure of other offers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Leadership Check-Up



Episode 55:  Check-up


Henry:    [Speaking into the PA] Attention! Attention please. May I 
          have the attention of each and every personnel, please? 
          This is your commanding officer, Colonel Blake… It is 
          required that, uh…everyone be given a routine medical 
          check-up. This is according to a new army regulation, 
          is your, uh…RP78/80778J, uh…blah blah blah. Now 
          accordingly, enlisted men will fall into the mess tent to 
          receive their physicals. Officers will examine 
          themselves, and vice versa, in private. 

All personnel are ordered to undergo a routine check up which reveals that Trapper has an ulcer which could be his ticket home. However, a new army regulation from Headquarters spoils his farewell party and plans to leave Korea.

Undergoing a physical check-up is a normal part of the rhythm of life to diagnose and treat any health concerns.  Likewise, looking after your mental health is emerging as being just as important as your physical health to maintain overall well-being.  When you consider that leadership is all about influence and how our influence impacts the well-being of those we lead, how important is it then that leaders also undergo a leadership check-up?  One of the most helpful processes I’ve engaged in as a part of my leadership development journey was completing the Life Styles Inventory (LSI) which provided a feedback report about the positive and negative characteristics of my leadership styles.  Other people I know engage in a similar process by completing a 360 degree questionnaire. These types of processes provide leaders with a diagnosis of their strengths and weaknesses and helpful strategies to facilitate growth and development.  In his book the 360 Degree Leader John Maxwell affirms the value of such a growth process, “Your leadership, if it is not continually growing, can be a lid to the potential of your people...If you want to increase the potential of your team, you need to keep growing yourself.” A regular leadership check-up is a prescription for the growth and well-being of your team.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Little Ray Of Sunshine



Episode 54:  Springtime

Trapper: Do you believe? Someone has actually ordered us a genuine 
         spring day.
Hawkeye: What a dirty rotten trick to put it in the middle of a war.
Trapper: I’m gonna put that sky on hold.
Hawkeye: That’s just a mural painted by the North Koreans to catch 
         us off our guard.

Spring is in the air bringing a ray of sunshine into the routine of the 4077th. Klinger gets married to his fiancé back home over the phone, Radar falls in love with nurse Louise and Hawkeye has an overzealous patient try to repay him for saving his life by being his personal aide and body guard.

Leading from deep within the trenches of life can be a dark and dreary place sometimes, especially when the clouds of uncertainty or opposition hover overhead. Underneath the deadlines, demands and day to day responsibilities it can be easy to lose sight of the clear skies of vision above radiating the opportunities and possibilities that excites us about leadership. However, just like the weather, the clouds do clear and the sun reemerges or like the seasons, winter will give way to spring. There is always a ray of light that penetrates the darkness reminding us of the vision that drives every focused leader to push through the dark times. This is a thought captured by Aristotle Onasis who said, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” A focused vision will allow light to shine into the darkest places of leadership.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Beyond The Routine


Episode 53:  O.R.


Hawkeye:    I can tell the onset of Arthritis.
Henry:      It’s just fatigue, it comes and goes.
Hawkeye:    Henry, this could be your ticket home…
Henry:      Pierce, I’ll level with you.  I’ve got a great practice 
            back home.  They all come to see me.  I’ll bet there’s  
            no one in Bloomington, Illinois, that I haven’t seen 
            naked.  But it’s routine.
Hawkeye:    Cookbook medicine. 
Henry:      Yeah.  But this place, this place, which has all the 
           attraction of a lanced boil, has given me the opportunity to do more doctoring than I can do in a lifetime back in the world.


A busy day in the O.R. reveals the pressures and stresses of the medical staff who are overworked and have to make difficult decisions in difficult circumstances. 

One of the many things I love about my role as a Salvation Army Officer is that no day is the same and very few are predictable.  On any given day I can be sharing my faith, coaching leaders, preparing for public ministry, visiting the sick, responding to one crisis or another, supporting vulnerable people, managing programs, shuffling paperwork or leading a service.  Leading in a frontline mission context, while often demanding, is an exhilarating fulfillment of what I was called and trained to do.  While leadership that is bound by routine can be draining or even depressing, leadership that breaks out of the ordinary can be energizing and empowering, no matter how  challenging the context.  The key to turning the routine into the remarkable is to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary and embrace every moment as an opportunity.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Professional Reputation



Episode 52:  Iron Guts Kelly


Colonel:    Is the General ill?
Trapper:    He’s a little past ill.
Hawkeye:    He’s dead.
Colonel:    He was fine a little while ago.  What happened?
Trapper:    Myocardial infarction….
Colonel:    He died in action at the front.  Leading his troops 
            against overwhelming odds, with shells bursting all 
            around him, until that one shell with his name on it  
            caught up with him.  That’s how General “Iron Guts”  
            Kelly died….I got a pretty good idea how he really 
            went.  It’s got to appear as though he died more  
            meaningfully.  There’s a Zen saying:  Just as a clay   
            jar will sooner or later crumble while being lowered  
            into a well, so old generals must eventually perish in  
            battle.  All you have to do is sign the death 
            certificate.  I’ll fill in the details….History demands 
            that the general die a glorious death.


When General Iron Guts Kelly visits the 4077 and dies in Major Houlihan’s tent, his aid creates a cover story to hide the real cause of death and contrive a more heroic death for the General by organising for his body to be driven to a front line battle.

How much is your reputation worth?  What would you do to protect it?  What values would you compromise to maintain a professional image?  These are challenging questions for leaders and organisations who want to protect their personal or corporate brand.  Make no mistake, reputation is important, but is it important enough to pursue at the expense of core values and character?  Consider these notable quotes that place a good reputation in the right context of sound character:  “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” (Abraham Lincoln); “The way to gain good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.” (Socrates); “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” (John Wooden).  Character trumps reputation every time!