Wingman for the General

“Okay, I’ll be your wingman. Let’s roll!” That was my self-appointed proclamation as General Loren Reno arrived in South Africa and we began our tour, providing leadership training to ABWE missionaries as well as South African pastors and ministry leaders.

Having served 38 years in the US Air Force, and now in his leadership position at Cedarville University, God has uniquely prepared General Reno to speak into people’s lives and help them develop as leaders. I was all set to go, but little did I, as a civilian, realize what the role of “wingman” would really mean and how I much I would personally be shaped by having a retired three-star General speak into my life.

I love the way WWII Ace Colonel Gabby Gabriski speaks of a wingman, “I look after my wingman. He looks after me. We work together. We fight together.”

Three significant things happened while General Reno was in South Africa.

Portrait taken by HAF/IMMP

First, various leadership training seminars were held where General Reno used the Scripture and his life and military experiences to show us how to develop a Personal Leadership Model. This comes out of his new book titled: 10 Leadership Maneuvers: A General’s Guide to Serving and Leading.

As the General’s wingman, I had the privilege of seeing the transformation of men and women who walked away feeling renewed in their passion to excel and equipped to become even better leaders in the areas where they serve the Lord.

Second, I was challenged, not only in my desire to see more leaders equipped, but also in my desire to grow as a leader. Here’s what God put on my heart as I worked through General Reno’s steps to developing a Personal Leadership Model. Mine grew out of a treasured verse where Paul fervently instructed his young protégée and friend, Timothy, to Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim. 2:15

Tom’s Personal Leadership Model – From 10 Leadership Maneuvers with Gen. Reno

  1. Lead with a Passion for a Person (2:15a) Keep Jesus First. 
  2. Lead with a Passion for a Plan (2:15b) Stick to the Mission. 
  3. Lead with a Passion for a Pace. (2:15c) Let God’s Word Guide.

Third, and highly meaningful to me personally, were my one-on-one times with General Reno. Some came while on the go, driving to another city or communicating in-between seminars, while others were planned and intentional. Shortly after General Reno arrived, I asked if he would take note of what he observed of me in my various leadership capacities and then speak into my life on those matters…both the good, and the not so good.

Throughout his visit, I saw him journaling a lot, and it was on the last day when just the two of us sat alone at the Cape Town Waterfront, that his journal came out and the General debriefed with his South African wingman.

Frankly, I was taken back by his swift ability to perceive, his keen sense of intuition, and the deep insights that he authentically and thoughtfully communicated with me. The General’s ability to grasp the details quickly, accurately assess the terrain, obstacles, challenges and resources was off the charts. I am forever grateful for that special time and believe I am becoming a better leader as I apply what we spoke about. Few people have spoken into my life the way he did in the short 12 days we spent together.

I learned a valuable lesson that I believe applies to all of us, but particularly for those in leadership roles. It is way too easy to isolate ourselves and avoid accountability when we all so desperately need it. The struggle can be that we are too busy, too insecure, or in some cases, not proactive enough to invite someone like a General Reno into our lives and allow them to get close enough to help us. Real spiritual and leadership growth happens when we listen to God as He speaks and then allow ourselves to be real and intimate with a godly individual who can help shape our personal development. I will be forever grateful for the General’s investment in this wingman. May the impact made on my life and leadership, as well as our ministry partners in South Africa, bear much fruit to the glory of God.

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