In my business classes and textbooks, I hoped to encounter the model of truly effective leadership. I wanted something like a blueprint to manage and motivate people, and the business department of a university seemed to be the logical place to look. While my classes were stimulating, the foundational principle seemed quite similar to the one I applied every day on the hamburger line: A good leader is the guy who gets people to do what he wants done.
Before I could make progress in my studies, however, President Richard Nixon sent me a personal letter inviting me to take a free physical. Rather than take my chances on being drafted, I decided to enroll in the Army’s Officer Candidate School. If I had to slog my way through the jungles of Vietnam, I at least wanted to be the one giving the orders.
In the army, the smoldering fire of my raw ambition burst into bold flame…While I had no intention of making a career of the army, I deeply subscribe to the basic philosophy of leadership it espoused. Whether military or civilian, being a leader was, in some way, a matter of climbing one’s way up an invisible ladder to the top. There, at the top, the reward was power–power to make things happen, power to control the options, power to influence others…
I suppose I would have continued full speed ahead, except for one thing. The reality of death was beginning to stare me in the face. I was training as an infantry officer, and I knew I could easily be carried out of the jungle feet first. I had buddies just like me–young, ambitious, and full of life–who had left for Vietnam and come home in flag-draped coffins. Their funerals broke through my ambition and stripped me of my idealistic illusions. What difference would it make to rise to the top if what awaited me was only the cold, gray question mark of death?
I began reading the New Testament in search of answers.