3 Christian Leadership Lessons from Pearl Harbor

07 Dec
December 7 1941

December 7 1941 (Photo credit: Luke Bryant)

Today is the 71st anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  As we pray for peace and mourn the loss of over 2,300 Americans on that day, we can examine this event to highlight some valuable leadership lessons.  Let’s look at 3 lessons from a Christian leadership perspective.

Lesson 1: Don’t Underestimate Your Enemy

Kevin Davis makes an excellent point: Don’t assess an enemy on what they might rationally do… assess them based on what they have the capacity to do.

In the case of Pearl Harbor, polite society would not pretend to negotiate with a government while initiating a surprise attack.  That’s not rational.

But knowing the enemy has the capacity to launch a devastating attack is a game changer for leaders.  Japan had the capacity!

As a Christian leader, we have to assess our enemy based on capacity as well.

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8 NLT)

Our enemy doesn’t punch the clock.  In fact, I’ll bet there’s never a day off in the devouring business!  But here’s the interesting twist: If we saw (or even suspected) a hungry lion was in the area, we would be ready.  Our enemy is much smoother than that.

Look at Paul’s warning to Corinth:

“These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Cor 11:13–14 NLT)

It’s rarely the lion that gets you… it’s usually the slick talking serpent in disguise that causes the fall.

Never underestimate your enemy!

Lesson 2: Eliminate Stove Pipes

Stove pipes in an organization refer to different divisions that never communicate or share information, whether because of organizational structure or human behavior.

In the case of Pearl Harbor, watch this classic Army/Navy stove pipe:

Army General Short was alerted to a possible attack on Nov 27th, a full 10 days before the attack.  But he positioned forces to defend against ground-based sabotage, assuming the Navy’s reconnaissance would alert him to any outside invasion force.

Navy Admiral Kimmel didn’t know the Army was on alert, and did not conduct reconnaissance because he thought Army ground-based radar would detect any incoming invasion.  However, due to training schedules, the Army radar only operated a few hours per day… not 24/7 as the Admiral assumed.

If the results weren’t so tragic, this would be comical.

But how often do we see similar stove pipes in Christianity?  Non-denominational churches and denominations don’t talk to each other for a variety of reasons.  Even within denominations we are more focused on what makes us different (and trust me… in the grand scheme of things these differences are minor).

Perhaps it’s time Christians of all flavors got together and decided what we are FOR, instead of arguing what we’re against.  By definition, Christians should be able to agree that we are FOR Christ!

Leaders should take every opportunity to build bridges based on commonalities, not differences.

Lesson 3: Listen to Others

Sometimes as leaders, we tend to ignore information because of who is saying it.

On December 4th, Navy Commander McCollum (Navy Far East Intelligence) wanted to issue a full alert to the Pacific Fleet based on intelligence he had pieced together.  He was denied by four senior Admirals who said previous warnings had been enough.

The leadership lesson here is clear: Focus on WHAT is right, not on WHO is right.

Christian leaders need to take the time to listen to others and extract the true over the who.

Of course, none of these lessons stands in isolation.  Circumstances are rarely so clearly defined and situations are fluid.  So what’s a Christian Leader to do?

– Don’t underestimate your enemy – he’s slick!
– Take every opportunity to reduce stovepipes by focusing on what we’re FOR
– Listen, and surround yourself with other listeners:

“The wise are mightier than the strong, and those with knowledge grow stronger and stronger. So don’t go to war without wise guidance; victory depends on having many advisers.” (Prov 24:5–6 NLT)

What would you add to these lessons?  How have they applied in your settings?

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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Leadership


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