Editor’s Note: The following article is
based on remarks Colonel Vicalvi delivered before the National
Prayer Breakfast at Fort Lee, Virginia, on 23 February.
In my almost 29 years on active duty, I have
witnessed two types of leadership. I can sum up these two
different types like this: those leaders who saw themselves
as, and led as, servants of their Nation and their subordinates,
and those who led expecting their subordinates to serve them
and make them look good. Put another way, there were those
who believed they were in leadership to take care of and support
those they led and those who were there to be taken care of
by those they led.
Someone once described it like this: The boss drives his men;
the leader coaches them. The boss inspires fear; the leader
inspires enthusiasm. The boss says, “I”; the leader
says, “We.” The boss says, “Get here on time”;
the leader beats them all to it. The boss fixes the blame for
breakdowns; the leader fixes the breakdowns. The boss makes
work a drudgery; the leader makes it interesting. The boss
says, “Go”; the leader says, “Let’s
Now think back. Have you seen both types of leadership? I honestly
believe that both types produce results. Servant leadership
produces results by encouraging and teaching. The other kind
produces results by threatening, intimidating, and manipulating.
I would propose that the leader who produces results by encouraging
and teaching has longer lasting results because he builds future
leaders who learn to believe in themselves and their abilities
and strengths. The intimidator produces people who either
become tyrants themselves or do things out of fear or punishment;
when the fear is gone, they don’t produce anymore.
Back in August 1879, Major General John M. Schofield, in his
address to the Corps of Cadets at West Point, said—
This is getting back to the basics of soldiering
and leadership the right way.
The Army values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage—are great values. Some just memorize them, and some live them.
We might think that servant leadership is supposed
to go only from high to low—from superior to subordinate—but
this is not so. My first assignment was as a battalion chaplain
in the 82d Airborne Division. I remember that one of the
first leaders I turned to was a first lieutenant—a seasoned
Vietnam veteran who had come up through the ranks. Now I
was a captain, but he took me under his wing and never made
me feel dumb. He patiently showed me how to rig a rucksack
for jumping and told me what to expect on a tactical jump.
He went out of his way to serve me.
The next person I remember
learning from by observing him was a staff sergeant who
taught me how to really care for Soldiers. The Soldiers
in his platoon knew that he would die for them, and he knew
that they would do the same for him. He did something
I seldom see anymore. He was single, and at that time he
lived in the barracks. On Sunday morning, he cared enough
about the spiritual needs of his Soldiers to lead them
to chapel. I would see them coming like baby ducks following
their mother. He led the way in their moral and spiritual
development. Maybe this is one of those basics of soldiering
and servant leadership that we need to dust off these
I remember those servant leaders even today,
and they have inspired my leadership through all these years.
I built their lives into mine, and I am better for having
served with them.
Being a servant leader does not always mean
that those who we lead like the things we do. At times, it
means that we must discipline our Soldiers and that we must
expect more out of them than just getting by. It means correcting
them and at times having them do jobs they really don’t
want to do. Sometimes it means kicking them in the pants.
I believe that the trademarks of a good servant
leader are competence, courage, and compassion. Those trademarks
always come easily. Many times, they come from hard knocks
in our own lives. I learned some of my lessons on what
makes an effective servant leader by serving under some
ineffective tyrant leaders. I vowed never to be like them.
True servant leadership is not age or gender
specific. At the Green Ramp fire at Pope Air Force Base,
in March 1994, many ran for their lives from this inferno,
and I don’t fault them. The first Soldiers that I
saw when I came around the corner into the flame and smoke
a young female first lieutenant aviator and a young specialist
Signal Corps Soldier. With disregard for their own well-being,
they gave all they had. They could have died, but they
put themselves on the line, and they each received the
Medal for their servant heroism. They were true servant
I pray that, no matter whether we wear stripes,
bars, leaves, eagles, or stars, we will continually get back
basics of true soldiering—of true servant leadership. May
God bless you all, and may God bless America. Pro Deo et
Patria—For God and Country!
Chaplain (Colonel) Paul L. Vicalvi is the Commandant
of the Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, South
He holds a B.A. degree from Houghton College, a master of divinity
degree from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, a master of
theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a master’s
degree in national security studies from the National War College.