Leadership Lessons: Mission First, People Always


528th USAAG

When I was in the U.S. Army, I deployed to Turkey in 1982. I was assigned to the 528th United States Army Artillery Group.  The commander of the unit had a saying that I’ve found helpful in my life since that deployment about 30 years ago.  He regularly said that one of the organizations chief values was, “Mission first, people always.” You’ve got to accomplish the mission or you’ve got to reach certain goals and standards. But, if you don’t care for the people, you’re not going to be able to accomplish the mission because it is through the people that the mission is accomplished. So, you’ve got to care about your people.

I’ve worked for people that did not have that philosophy of leadership. They were the type of people who would just chew people up and out. They lead by intimidation. It was all about accomplishing their goals. Subordinates had to be forced to do what they wanted done, no matter the cost. Those kinds of people weren’t enjoyable to work for. I remember one in particular that I was actually afraid of. I did everything to avoid that person because I knew he didn’t care about me as a person. He would readily sacrifice me to do what he wanted to get done.

After I left that assignment in Turkey, I thought I had applied the lesson of Mission First, People Always. But, I learned later I hadn’t done so. I was a whole lot more career driven than I was willing to admit. My unspoken mission was to be a success in my career. I share this to my shame and I believe I’ve now changed. But, we lived in Guatemala for a time. My wife and I started talking about maybe adopting a child there.  After I thought about it, I said that I believed it might hurt my career having a child that was so different from us. So, we didn’t adopt.  I grieve my attitude back then. But, clearly it was more about the mission (my career), than about people (a little child whom we could have helped greatly). My wife later graciously and lovingly confronted me on that attitude, which helped me in the process of change.

Career is important. You’ve got to make money in order to live. But, it is not and should not be more important that people. That’s what I love about Jesus. He loved people. He put them above his wants and desires. It was about people…always. I think that’s what John, the Beloved Apostle, who experienced the love of Jesus first hand meant when he said, John 3:16 (AMP) For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world (that’s people; you and I) that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.

God always loves people; he puts them first by giving up his son for them. That’s a great example of how we should be.

8 comments on “Leadership Lessons: Mission First, People Always

  1. Henry Kidson says:

    Great message John – is life not a continuous tug-of-war between mission and people?
    We have to be on our guard all the time – and how else do we learn but by our mistakes. It takes courage to face up and own up to ones mistakes – and to guard against future error of judgment.

    You came up through a difficult culture in the Army, never known to be freedom’s Valhalla.

    As a warrior theologian you had a tough road to how – but your experiences now serves for the betterment of us.

  2. Henry, you’re right it’s a constant tug of war. I guess what I’ve learned is people really matter. At the end of life when I’m on my deathbed getting ready to see Jesus face to face, I want my family and friends around me. The awards on my wall won’t mean a thing.

  3. rudolph masters jr. says:

    I was at cakmakli, during this time, I lost touch with friends, would love to hear from them. Col. Manupella

  4. rudolph masters jr. says:

    Col. Manupella was the CO. SFC Kinghorne I worked with him,

  5. William Shipman says:

    I was at the Cak 78-79 and I too would like to connect with friends

  6. EDWARD Bruce HUTTON says:

    Is this the John Churchill 1st LT???? Former Commander of HHC on the Cak???? Ed Hutton here, hope to hear from you. Excellent advice John!

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