Servant Leadership Address by Colonel John Knowles at Commander’s Call to Prayer

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Colonel John M. Knowles, CAP, commander of the Middle East Region, gave the address during the Commander’s Call to Prayer at the CAP National Conference in August 2016.  He spoke about servant leadership.  Here is his talk.


What greater place is there to talk about servant leadership then the Commander’s call to prayer? Our chaplains are a commander’s advisers on matters of religion, morality and integrity, and for enlightened leaders, serve as a touchstone and a gut check on how things are going.

Colonel John M. Knowles, CAP, is the commander of the Middle East Region of the Civil Air Patrol.
Colonel John M. Knowles, CAP, is the commander of the Middle East Region of the Civil Air Patrol.

We’ve already heard some inspiring scripture but let me share one more with you. Hoping not to get into too much trouble with our chaplains, and their boss, let me add a new “title” to a familiar name, the “National Commander” of the Christian faith –maybe I need to also ask our national commander for some “title leeway” as well since I just borrowed his– is mentioned in the gospel of Mark, Chapter 10.

(42) Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
(43) Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
(44) and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all.
(45) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Servant leadership is both a leadership philosophy and set of leadership practices. Traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid.” By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. (I read this on the internet, Wikipedia, to be exact so it must be true!)

For those of us that grew up cutting our teeth on leadership through CAP Manual 30-5 –the 1965 edition was in use when I started out my CAP adventure – “The Cadet Leadership Laboratory,” in Chapter 7 (I looked it up.) we learned about leadership styles and the difference between autocratic, participative and laissez-faire leadership. We learned that the true leader, the persuasive type, takes into consideration the human element. He bases his leadership on examples and ability, and he sets high standards of discipline and efficiency for himself and his subordinates.

In today’s Civil Air Patrol, we have our formal core values – Integrity, Volunteer Service, Excellence and Respect – One of the basic tenants of servant leadership culture is to serve others respectfully.

As a member of CAP’s Senior Advisory Group, I can attest that this is the leadership philosophy that we have in our national command team. Our leadership reaches down through the chain of command to factor in our member’s needs and concerns. A perfect example is the current review of all regulations to make things easier for our members. Let me go further to share that as a guy who, well is not exactly known for his patience, (Let’s just say I know where I am when it comes to Patton’s famous quote – “Lead, follow or get out of the way!” — I am told by no less an authority on cadets then my daughter, a squadron deputy commander for cadets, that I scare and intimidate them though I don’t mean to.) that I have witnessed, learned a lot and I hope have become a better leader from my time on the CSAG.

Colonel John M. Knowles provided the address at the Commander's Call to Prayer at the Civil Air Patrol National Conference in Nashville in August 2016.
Colonel John M. Knowles provided the address at the Commander’s Call to Prayer at the Civil Air Patrol National Conference in Nashville in August 2016.

Part of the challenge of servant leadership is that it requires humility, confidence, and trust on the part of the leader. Leaders need to understand their own strengths and especially their own weaknesses in order to become good servant leaders. They cannot micromanage but must trust others to do their job. It is ironic that too many leaders fail to completely grasp the reality that those whom they lead have that leader’s future, in fact the future of our Civil Air Patrol in their hands.

If you think I am saying it is easy, I’m not. Personally I am challenged almost every day to follow this philosophy but I also know I am not alone. Let me share a couple of more famous people’s thoughts that may help you in your quest to be a good servant leader:

“…it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time” by Clayton M. Christensen.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant” from Max DePree.

And finally, one of my favorites “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit” from President Harry S Truman.

Robert Greenleaf, viewed as a modern-day authority on servant leadership, recognized that organizations as well as individuals could be servant-leaders. Indeed, he had great faith that servant-leader organizations could change the world. I think so too.

Let’s go out together and make some change.

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