Best-selling author, his latest: The Leader’s Code (2013)
Graduate: Princeton University
MBA: Harvard Business School
First in his class in Marines’ Basic Officer Course
Recipient of Combat Action Ribbon, Defense Meriotirous Service Medal, Bronze Star with Valor
Consultant, Credera, a rapidly growing management and technology consulting company
Married, 3 girls
The Role of Leadership in the Bible
Donovan was a Captain in the USMC deployed in Iraq in 2004 and led a 40-man platoon in his first major firefight. After engaging in battle for days, fighting for hours at a time and witnessing injuries and sometimes death, Donovan was faced with his own mortality. “I told myself I would certainly die within the next four months and that that was acceptable,” he says. At that moment, Donovan says he was freed. He had been preoccupied with the avoidance of death. When Donovan understood that he would die, or that he would die in the near future, his goal no longer was to keep himself safe but to care for his men and protect the people of Iraq. “It’s one of life’s greatest paradoxes: The more we lose our lives, the more we find them again,” says Donovan, who grew up Christian. After accepting the reality of his own possible death, Donovan understood what Christ did in laying His life down for others. “The most effective leadership model is the one Christ exhibited,” he says.
In the Marines, a mission and its accompanying virtues are flowed into action via a servant-leader model. The model is simple: a leader’s role is to: (1) Accomplish a worthy mission; (2) Pursue character above all else; (3) Serve others before serving yourself. While simple in context, Donovan says these concepts are hard to execute, particularly pursuing character above all else. There is no popular consensus on what character means although Donovan defines character as “an honorable individual condition gained through the intentional pursuit of virtue and maintained over the course of a lifetime.” He says the military has a very clear picture of what virtue means, which makes this institution unique in a world awash in relativism. “I encourage people to pursue virtues because we have such a lack of leadership in this country,” says Donovan. In this way, the military’s six pillars of virtue include: (1) Humility; (2) Excellence; (3) Kindness; (4) Discipline; (5) Courage; and (6) Wisdom.
UNDERSTANDING THE CODE
Donovan says while he led his platoon he was amazed that these young, 19-year old Marines were inspired to charge a machine gun position, jump on a grenade or drag a wounded child out of the line of fire. It is the servant-leader model that instilled in these young men the character to perform amazing acts of heroism. Since Donovan left the Marines in 2005, he says he still serves. He says all leaders understand the simple fact that our time on earth is limited and understanding that simple fact sharpens the vision of what is truly important.
Of the six virtues, Donovan says there are three that are most often ignored in our culture today which are the most overtly Christ-centered: (1) Courage. Physical courage, risking life and limb in pursuit of a worthy mission is universally respected. “There are few better ways to demonstrate that you mean what you say than to put yourself bodily on the line for your values,” says Donovan. There is also moral courage. It does not risk lives, but rather it risks livelihoods. It may not incur bodily harm, but it may require difficult, even life-altering decisions to be made in a matter of seconds. (2) Kindness. This is an emotion put into action and has four elements: compassion, action, grace and sacrifice. Donovan uses the example of the Good Samaritan who looked at a wounded man and stopped what he was doing. He felt something and took action in accordance with his feelings. (3) Humility. Humility is not thinking less of ourselves and downplaying our gifts. True humility is a virtue imperative for a leader and is nothing more than a realistic, accurate view of ourselves “warts and all.”
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