FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Characteristics of a Leader

with Donovan Campbell | May 29, 2013
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A leader embraces humility and excellence. Donovan Campbell, an author, consultant and former Marine Captain, recalls "pick up day" as a new Marine when young recruits like himself were besieged by screaming drill instructors eager to whip them into shape. Men, Campbell notes, need to be broken before they can be rebuilt into fine leaders. Humility is critical because it allows a person to put others first. While vital on the battlefield, excellence is especially needed on the home front, where the next generation is being shaped.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • A leader embraces humility and excellence. Donovan Campbell, an author, consultant and former Marine Captain, recalls "pick up day" as a new Marine when young recruits like himself were besieged by screaming drill instructors eager to whip them into shape. Men, Campbell notes, need to be broken before they can be rebuilt into fine leaders. Humility is critical because it allows a person to put others first. While vital on the battlefield, excellence is especially needed on the home front, where the next generation is being shaped.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

While vital on the battlefield, excellence is especially needed on the home front.

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Characteristics of a Leader

With Donovan Campbell
May 29, 2013
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Bob: Donovan Campbell says he recognizes that, as a dad, what he does is more powerful—more important—than what he teaches his children.

Donovan: When I think about what I’m asking my girls to do—I’m asking them to pray each night—well, “Do I have the discipline to wake up and pray each morning?” I mean, if I’m going to ask these little girls, who are following me, and who I know are going to marry a man someday, “Am I the kind of man that I want them to marry?” And if I want that to happen, then: “What do I have to do? What are the little pieces of discipline I have to adhere to—to make that work?”

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Today, we’ll hear what Donovan Campbell learned from the Marines about how he could be a better daddy. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. If you had to identify the character qualities that are involved in leadership, would courage be at the top of that list for you; do you think? I mean, you talk about courage so much that I’d have to think that would be where you’d start.

Dennis: It would be near the top, if not at the top, because I think, without courage, all the other virtues that make up leadership are really neutralized.

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: A leader has to move past his fear—past obstacles—and has to do his duty.

Bob: But there has to be more than courage because, if there’s courage and not the other virtues, then there’s just craziness; right?

Dennis: It really is. We have a guest with us who knows a little about that. Donovan Campbell joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Donovan, welcome back.

Donovan: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

Dennis: Donovan is the author of The Leader’s Code. He was a former Captain in the United States Marine Corps.

Bob: Excuse me. Still a Captain, retired. Is that right? We don’t call you a former Captain.

Donovan: No, former Captain is the right word for it.

Bob: Sorry. I stand corrected.

Donovan: It’s on the cover of the book. [Laughter]

Dennis: It had to be right.

Bob: Okay.

Dennis: I wouldn’t think Donovan would make that mistake. He’s a graduate of Princeton—went to Harvard Business School. He and his wife live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, along with their three daughters and a soon-to-be son. Congratulations on getting a guy.

Donovan: Thanks. I’m one of five boys. It had to happen, eventually. [Laughter]

Dennis: You list a number of leadership characteristics: humility, kindness, excellence—but there’s one I want to talk about first because I love the story that you tell, at the beginning of the chapter about this. It’s discipline—that a leader’s code, really, has to have discipline. You illustrate this with a story about your first pickup day as a Marine.

Donovan: Oh, my gosh. Yes. So, when people hear discipline, a lot of times, they immediately shrink back because that word has negative connotations.

Dennis: It’s like “punishment”.

Donovan: They think it means punishment; that’s exactly right. But really, it first entered the English language as a way to explain the systematic set of instructions that was given from a master to a pupil. Its Latin root is actually in the word “discipula”, which means student or school. We say “disciple”.

Bob: Disciple, yes.

Donovan: That’s exactly right.

Dennis: Who’s a learner.

Donovan: That’s exactly right. So, when you join the Corps, you have to go through this thing called Marine Officer Candidate School. What it does is it screens people to determine whether they can survive the rigors of training and then in leading Marines into combat. So it’s a ten-week thing. It really starts on pickup day. You’ve been about—a few days—you’ve already been there—it’s been relatively easy. You’ve been kind of marched around, but you don’t have your drill instructor yet—the pace is kind of slow.

Well, all of that changes on pickup day because on pickup day you’re in the middle of this big gym. It’s just like a big concrete slab with these tin walls. This Major gets up there. He gives a speech about what you’re going to learn, and how important it is, and this journey you’re about to embark on. You’re sort of paying attention; but the reality is, you notice, out of the corner of your eye, like all these people are filing in. They’re lining the walls, and you know those are the drill instructors.

The Major winds up with something. At that point, I was paying almost no attention because I was sort of getting really fearful of these guys who look like they’ve just stepped out of an action figure box. They’re perfect “V’s”, and their clothes are all creased. As soon as that Major stops giving his speech, these people fly off the wall like they’re shot out of a cannon. They just start screaming—oh, my gosh—“Get your stuff! Pick it up! Pick it up now!”

You grab these two big green C-bags you’ve got, and this backpack, and just start running. You’re running. You’re freaking out because you’ve never had someone, like an inch away from you, yelling at you before. It’s just a very unusual experience—telling you that you’re slow, and that you’re worthless, and all this sort of thing. You have guys who have a C-bag on their head and one on their stomach. You look like a set of pack mules that was packed by someone that was blind. It’s just unbelievable.

You get to the tarmac. It’s: “Dump your bags! Pick them up! You’re too slow! Dump them again! You clearly have to practice!” What they’re starting to teach you is: “You don’t know the way that things are done. We’re going to prove that to you,” somewhat violently, “over, and over, and over.” Eventually, you’ll realize you need to learn a different way. You need to learn discipline.

Bob: So they break you before they rebuild you.

Donovan: That’s exactly right. And the reason that they break you is because the Marines, unlike many other institutions that are on land, they still believe in absolute truth. They may not say it in those words; but that’s what they believe—just like we, as Christians, are taught to believe.

What they believe is this:

There are absolute truths that work in leadership. There is no time, in our organization, for those truths that don’t work because if you apply something that doesn’t work, then people die. So, we have to convince you that this new truth we’re going to teach you—that you need to be virtuous if you want to lead, that you need to learn, and practice, and pursue specific virtues—just like you would anything else you want to be good at.

We have to convince you that that is the correct way to look at the world. So, we have to break you down. When we break you down, we are humbling you, we are teaching you that you don’t know everything, and we are teaching that you should accept our teaching because our teaching will save your life—and more importantly—will save the lives of the Marines that one day you will lead.

Bob: Why is this kind of breaking and humility important to form leaders?

Donovan: Well, the breaking and humility is critical because, at its heart, humility is the virtue that allows you to put others before yourselves. That is, it is really the virtue that tells you: “My job is not to build myself up, or make myself look good, or seek power, or glory, or wealth, or fame. My job is something else.” I can realize this because I’ve been taught the value and the virtue of humility, which many people think just means thinking less of yourself.

The whole point of what they were doing is they had to humble you to prepare you to learn, and to prepare you to accept that there is a standard, and that you need to adhere to it first—and that then, you need to get others to adhere to it—because you’re modeling it. If they want to know what right looks like, they can look at you because you have the discipline necessary to model right—and that you can’t do that if you’re not humble enough to admit that someone else knows a better way to do it than you do.

Dennis: This works in the Marines because this is the way you build a fighting force that defends itself. It also works in families—as moms and dads disciple—as they train their children for battle—because they’re going to face it.

Bob: You’re not recommending that dads get alongside their kids and go [shouting]: “Put that down! Pick it up! You’re stupid! You’re slow!” You’re not thinking that; right?

Donovan: “I’ve never seen someone so slow and so worthless!” [Laughter]

Dennis: No, I don’t think so! I don’t think so, but the principle of discipline, and training our children, and teaching them to rightly evaluate who they are and having humility.

Donovan: It’s true. It’s a true principle. It works in the Marine Corps because it’s true! It produces good military leadership because it’s true! If it’s true in that context, it’s also true in the home context. So, if you think about humility, for example, one of the things I have to do to stay humble is I pursue intentional relationships with like-minded Christian men.

We meet every Monday morning. They tell me when I’m being a moron. They tell me when I’m making a stupid career decision. They have no qualms about that. They really help me see myself as I am. When I think about what I’m asking my girls to do—I’m asking them to pray each night—well, “Do I have the discipline to wake up and pray each morning?” If I’m going to ask these little girls, who are following me, and who I know are going to marry a man someday: “Am I the kind of man that I want them to marry? Am I the kind of leader of my household that I hope will be the leader of their household?” If I want them to know, “What does a man looks like?” can I tell them, “Look at me”? And if I want that to happen, then: “What do I have to do? What are the little pieces of discipline I have to adhere to—to make that work?”

Bob: You’re also bleeding over into one of the other things you talk about—which is a commitment to excellence—as a part of leadership. You tell a story about a fellow soldier, who modeled for you this principle of excellence.

Donovan: I will never forget Lieutenant Kurtz. The Marines have a very intense little-known, very secretive school called Infantry Officers Course. It is like the Marine version of Ranger school. You spend most of your time in the field. You eat one meal a day when you’re out in the field. You carry tons of ammunition. You get very little sleep. You’re hiking at all times of day and night. You’re doing live fire, and you’re working as a unit.

Throughout this entire time, we had one guy, who did his best, no matter what. He was a pilot; he wasn’t even an infantry officer. He was just the guy who knew he would one day be flying in support of Marines on the ground. So, he volunteered to go through their training to know what it was—know what their life was like; right?

Bob: Wow.

Donovan: I’ll never forget—at two a.m., someone could say, “We need someone to carry the radio.” Kurtz would say: “I got it. No problem.” We’d say: “Alright, we have to hike the mortars out to the mortar field.” It’s a 14-mile or 10-mile hike, whatever it was—long. “Someone has to carry the 80-pound two-barrel mortar.” Kurtz: “I got it. No problem.” “We need someone to stand fire watch from four to five a.m.,”—the worst time because you know you can’t go back to sleep. You’re just going to miss an hour of sleep. Kurtz: “No problem. I’ve got it.” He did everything; and everything he did, he did well. He was not the smartest of us. He wasn’t the most athletic. He was not the best tactician, but you know what?

We voted him the best leader in our class—the first time, in history, a pilot had ever achieved it because he was the only one—and I include myself in this—he was the only one, who day-in and day-out, gave nothing less than his best. He humbled us by doing that. It was unbelievable to watch.

Dennis: You define excellence in an interesting way. I don’t know how I would describe excellence. I’ve always said our God created 40,000 different kinds of butterflies. He’s a God who is into detail and into excellence. He believes in doing things right. But you have a different definition.

Donovan: The way I view doing things right— or my definition, basically, is you give your best, regardless of the outcome—regardless of whether you think that outcome is going to be good or going to be bad. You put into your day and your task the best energies that you have because you are blessed to have a day in which you can give your best.

Time is a gift, and I think our right response to the gift of time is excellence. I have a day. I have something I can do today, and I’m going to give my best. It may not work out the way I want it to. I may not produce a masterpiece like Beethoven did. Heck, Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony and he never heard it; but he gave his best at it because he believed in excellence. That’s kind of what I think excellence is.

Bob: You tempered that a little bit, though. You talk about the need for balance when it comes to excellence. Explain what you mean.

Donovan: You can’t be narrowly-focused; right? I think it’s really important—as you think about excellence—you think through, “What does that look like across my life?” Many people have seen the picture of Dick and Rick Hoyt. Dick Hoyt is a man who is pushing his son, who is in a wheelchair—inspiration to millions. I mean, “If a father can push his son through 26.2 miles of a run because he loves him tremendously; then, surely, I can do this.” I’ve heard of many Marines who have been inspired to go running because of these guys.

But what is less well-known is that because there was such a focus in Dick Hoyt’s life on achieving these endurance races, his marriage fell apart. He said he did not seek for excellence in that other category of his life. I think it’s really important, as we think about where we want to give excellently, we consider all facets of our life—our faith, our family, our work, our friends, our communities.

Dennis: I like what you said there because I think it’s easy for a man—or for that matter, a woman—to excel at work and ignore the family-front and not really have a sense of intentionality of where they’re taking their marriage, where they’re taking their children—how they’re creating discipline and training their children to become followers of Christ. We can’t fail there. That’s where the next generation is, ultimately, being shaped and launched—as my friend Crawford Loritts says—“…to a time we will not see.”

Donovan: Oh, it’s so true. Psalms and Proverbs both describe children as “arrows in the hand of a warrior”. We get to launch those arrows into the future. I think it is so easy to lose sight of the fact that, at least for me, there is only one man who can be a father to my daughters. There are many other men who can do what I do in my job; but there is only one man, on this entire earth, that can be a good daddy to my little girls—and that’s me. If I fail at that: “Man! I’ve failed at the only job that only I can do well. I don’t want to fail at that.”

Bob: Most of our listeners have never been and will never get to Quantico, Virginia, to see the statue that you talk about there that really marked your picture of leadership; right?

Donovan: That’s right. The statue is of William Leftwich. It is a statue of a man, with one arm pointed to his left—his rifle is in that arm—his body is clearly running in the direction of his outstretched rifle. His right arm is crooked; and it is beckoning those who, although unseen, are behind him. His head is pointed back at them. You can tell he’s yelling something. Below that statue, it says simply, “Follow me!”

And that, I think, is a phenomenal picture of leadership. It is: “If you want to know where to go, watch me. Follow me because I will be doing what I ask you to do, and I will be leading the way toward a mission that is worthy of being accomplished.” This man, ultimately, died in Viet Nam because he went on every rescue mission for the Reconnaissance Marines that he sent out. One day, on the rescue mission of the men he commanded, his helicopter was shot down and he died. He was doing exactly what he asked his men to do. When he said, “Follow me!” they listened.

Dennis: I just got off the phone with a corporate leader before coming into the studio. We were talking about the condition of marriages, across the country, and how there is moral chaos in our nation today around its most basic unit. I made this statement to him. I said: “I believe it is time for grassroots men and women to pick up the Scriptures—pick up the tools that ministries, like FamilyLife, have created that will make them very effective—and begin to make a difference where they live—in their communities, their churches, their neighborhoods, their businesses—and do their duty, there, on behalf of what, I think, God wants to do in marriages and families.”

The picture of what you’re talking about—of that warrior running in the direction of his weapon, beckoning others to, “Follow me,”—I hope some of what our listeners hear, on a regular basis from us—from Bob and me, here on FamilyLife Today—is a similar call: “Follow us as we follow Christ. Together, let’s make a difference in marriages and families,” because without you doing your duty—without you, as an individual, stepping out and doing battle on behalf of marriages and families—I fear our nation is going to continue to move into greater and greater chaos. It’s what I appreciated about your book, The Leader’s Code, when I ran across it. I thought, “He’s on target because he begins the book talking about mission.”

“What’s your mission?” I think all of us—not just pastors, not just “Christian leaders”, or people who can put their name on a book—they’re not the only ones on a mission.

Donovan: No.

Dennis: Mission is for everybody.

Donovan: And that is what I love about what you are doing. It would give me such great hope because here is what’s outstanding about this time in our country—there is something worth fighting for. Heroes are not made in times of peace. Heroes are made during times of war—during times of chaos. We, in America—we have something worth fighting for.

We have a time—I think, a unique time in our nation’s history—where people are saying: “We don’t like the leadership that we see, but we don’t know what’s different. We don’t necessarily agree with everything that’s going on, but we’re not sure.” This is one of the greatest times, I think—in our history for the Christian Church, and for Christian men and women, and Christian families to raise their hand and say:

You know what? I’m not perfect, but I know what right looks like. I’m trying to put it into practice, and I know why I’m trying to put it into practice. I have a Savior who died for me. My job is to bring that message, and to bring that kind of service, to the rest of the world.

If you want to know how you can live your life well, and you want to know how you can make a difference in your communities, and you want to see a different model of leadership—one that really works: “Hey, follow me. Look at me. Look at my family. Look at where we’re serving. Look at how we love each other. Look at the way in which we are the hands and the feet of Christ.”

I think if we can do that, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really win the hearts and minds of our country—and convince them that what we believe is true, and it’s noble, and it’s beautiful—and it will bring meaning and purpose to their lives. It’s an awesome cause to fight for.

Dennis: And an awesome privilege, too.

Donovan: It is an awesome privilege.

Dennis: And it’s a privilege to be in that battle with you, Donovan.

Donovan: Likewise.

Dennis: Thanks for being on our broadcast. I really do want to commend our listeners to get a copy of this book and to read it: The Leader’s Code. It will help you as you do battle on behalf of families. I also want you, Bob, to share a little bit about a couple of the tools that we have that people can grab hold of because, after Donovan just gave that charge, I was ready to reenlist. There have to be some others out there going: “Give me the tool! Give me the weapons! Let’s go!”

Bob: I was thinking about guys getting together with other guys and going through Donovan’s book—maybe, going through the Stepping Up™ ten-week video series that we put together, based on the book you wrote called Stepping Up. I think the combination of men getting together with other men and being challenged to step up—being challenged to be a leader—I think that’s a powerful, potent combination.

I think it can change things in your life, and in the culture of your church, in the culture of your home. That’s why we would encourage you—go to Find out how you can get a copy of Donovan Campbell’s book, The Leader’s Code. Go through it with a group of guys this summer. Take a chapter every time you meet and talk about what you learned from that chapter. Or get together with guys and go through the Stepping Up ten-week video series this summer.

Go to for more information about the resources we have available—the book, The Leader’s Code, by Donovan Campbell—the Stepping Up material that’s available from us, here at FamilyLife Today. Again, the website is; or call if you need information about any of these resources: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the toll-free number; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

Now, we are getting down to the wire. This Friday is the end of May. That means it’s the last day we are able to receive donations that qualify for the matching-gift fund that we have, here at FamilyLife. Some of you know that we have some friends who came to us, a while back, and said: “We know that summertime has traditionally been a difficult time for ministries like yours. There is a decline in donations that often happens over the summer, and we hope that won’t be the case for FamilyLife Today this summer; but just in case, we’d like to help you guys with a little surplus.”

What they offered to do was put together a matching-gift fund—$603,000 in the fund—but in order for us to take advantage of those funds, we had to raise the other $603,000. So, we’ve been busy doing that, all this month. Many of you have donated. Thank you for that. We still have a little ways to go. Would you consider, today, going to, click the button that says “I CARE”, and make as generous a donation as you possibly can? Your donation, whatever it is, will be matched, dollar for dollar, out of our matching-gift fund. You can also call to make a donation. The toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the deadline is Friday. So, we’d love to hear from you today. And please continue to pray for us—that we would have listeners who respond to the challenge, and we’d be able to take full advantage of these matching-gift funds.

And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to talk about what a daddy can do to knit his heart to his daughter’s heart. We’ll talk about dating your daughter on tomorrow’s program. Hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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