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Leadership 101: Unlocking Our Spirituality

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By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

Spirituality – the fifth element we must master if we are to achieve the whole-man (whole-woman) foundation in our quest for true leadership – may well-be the most challenging of the “five mountains” to climb (The other four mountains being the body, the mind, emotion, and intuition; which we’ve discussed here, here, and here).

Challenging to master to be sure; spirituality is also the most challenging to teach. It’s even more challenging to convince leadership students and fledgling leaders why it is so important. Yet it is perhaps the key foundational underpinning of any true leader.

Great Captains And Kings

History’s great captains have always known and appreciated the value of spirituality. The Bible, for instance, is full of these extraordinary leaders. And for the past 2,000 years, the world’s most celebrated battlefield commanders and most revered heads-of-state have not only embraced spirituality in their own lives, but they have openly and unapologetically acknowledged the critical necessity of the presence of God in their armies and nations.

“A good Christian will never make a bad soldier,” said Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus in the 17th century.

Our own George Washington, regularly appealed to God for strength and guidance, demanded – when he was commanding-general of the Continental Army – that his troops follow the teachings of the Bible, and he frequently wrote about the importance of it; as did Pres. Abraham Lincoln and most of our nation’s other chief executives.

Pres. Ronald Reagan referred to prayer and the power of God as “the greatest tool that we have.”

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the deep spirituality found within the various Eastern and Western warrior traditions, those traditions serving as incubators not only for warriors, but leaders in the purest sense.

Power Of Spirituality

Why is spirituality so important for the leader? Myriad reasons not the least of which is the discipline, morality, selflessness, and overall integrity found or tapped into when searching one’s soul or seeking the divine.  Beyond that is the supernatural power so necessary to move onto the plain inhabited by those whom we almost universally refer to as the great leaders.

Sounds a bit fantastic? It’s not. It’s real. It’s why nearly all the truly great leaders admit to praying and seeking God. It’s why warriors in all cultures pray and meditate before battle. And it has very little to do with this wrongheaded belief (usually by those who have never experienced combat) that warriors fear they are going to die. Warriors don’t fear death to the degree that they are praying not to die, especially in elite forces like U.S. Navy SEALs, where quiet time, prayer and meditation are regular occurrences before an operation.

Warriors and leaders (I frequently mention both in the same breath, because the skills required of a pure warrior are the skills required of a pure leader) don’t pray just to hear themselves praying. After all, there is never enough mission-prep time as it is.

Warriors and leaders pray to tap into the power of God.  That power is real, and they know it.

Keys To The Locks

So what are the keys to tapping into this power, this spirituality? From my perspective as a Christian, it’s actually two keys and three locks (those who are not Christians may well modify the locks slightly to reflect their own spiritual frames of reference).

The keys are the Word of God and a sincere belief in – and a love for – God. For me and other Christians the Word of God is the Bible.

The locks are prayer, trust, and personal consecration, all of which are impossible locks without the two keys. Even with the keys, it is not always easy to turn the tumblers.


The first lock to open is prayer, which is something that is less a series of recitations and appeals for blessings (recitations and appeals would, after all, be more akin to keys) but more a deep meditative drawing toward the presence of and communing with God. Blessings will come. That is a promise from God as we see in His Word. But we must first draw near to God, intimately.


Second is trust, which is simply an acceptance that a certain thing or circumstance is beyond our control, and then placing that thing in the hand of God. Though we must maintain our responsibility to that thing and not neglect it, we must also be able to say to God, “I am incapable of handling this, so I entrust it to You to be handled as You see fit, in Your perfect time, for Your perfect Will.”

Then we let the thing go, again not neglecting it, but washing away any fear or emotional attachment to it, because we know it truly is in God’s hands. And we constantly remind ourselves of that.

Yielding To God

Third, we personally consecrate ourselves before God. In this, we have to do what Dr. Richard Blackaby says of such men and women in his book, “Unlimiting God.” Blackaby writes, “While they previously considered Christ to be their Lord, they had never wholly yielded themselves to God. They had attitudes, private sins, pride, and resentment that were draining them of the spiritual vitality they craved. When they consecrated themselves more thoroughly, they discovered God was waiting to meet them at an entirely new level.”

A Few Good Men (And Women)

Granted, none of this is easy. As we used to say in the Marines, “If everybody could be a Marine, we wouldn’t be the Marines.”

Same with spirituality. If every leader was as committed to unlocking the secrets of God’s power, there would be no failed or marginally successful leaders.

Stay with us. There’s so much more, including a great deal more on the importance of spirituality. If you have questions or suggestions, I’m at


– W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor who writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq and Lebanon. He directs the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team. He is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. Smith’s website is