In the top-ranked TV show, NCIS, special agent Tony Dinozzo is on assignment in Marseille, France, charged with bringing home to the USA the grown daughter of an Admiral, who is one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both of their phones have been destroyed or compromised, so Tony has limited contact with his Boss, Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
When he is able to put through a call from a public phone, Tony tells Gibbs he needs his help.
Gibbs asks, “With what?”
“With finding Emir,” Tony replies. (Emir is the daughter’s friend and she won’t leave France without him).
“I can’t answer that.”
Gibbs replies, “I can’t authorize that.”
“No,” says Tony, “but the Admiral can.”
And that’s all we learn about what Gibbs will do. In France the situation gets worse for Tony and the Admiral’s daughter. As they attempt to rescue Emir, they are captured by a female enemy agent and held at gunpoint.
Tony says to the woman holding a gun to his head, “I wouldn’t shoot if I were you, because at this very moment 12 of the most highly trained marksmen in the world are aimed at you. All they need is my signal.”
“You’re bluffing,” she says.
The enemy agent’s eyes flicker for a moment, and we who are watching wonder at Tony’s bold words. Suddenly a pinpoint of red light appears on the forehead of the gun moll, and then another and another, and yes, about 12 tiny red dots of light appear on her head and heart.
Later the Admiral’s daughter asks Tony, “When did you call them?”
And he answers, “I didn’t. But this has Leroy Jethro Gibbs written all over it!”
And I wondered, what did he mean by that? How did Tony know he would have back-up even when communication had been minimal?
I began to think about leadership. The Gibbs character, played by Mark Harmon, is a man of few words. He’s also a man with weaknesses—he’s been married three times and the last two ended in divorce. His judgment is not perfect.
Yet his team thinks he is the consummate “boss.” Here’s why: first, Gibbs is a fully supportive leader. He is picky about who he chooses for his team, but once they are on his team, he is totally on their side. He will go to war, if need be, to protect them and to get them the assistance they need. He ALWAYS has his team’s back. He sends them out on assignment, but he gives them full support—they can count on him to come through for them in the crunch. He will make his boss call the Department of Defense or insist that the Admiral call Interpol, but he will get the help his team needs. Tony, McGee, Ziva and now Bishop know that they are not alone in the field.
Second, he has high expectations for his team. Each one is an expert in his or her own field, and each is expected to more than pull their own weight. He wants to be told the facts, in words he can understand, and woe to the team member who is lagging—a slap to the back of the head might be in order!
Third, Gibbs has rules for the team. Each member must learn the unwritten (but numbered) rules and follow them explicitly. Being part of the team means knowing how to do what the boss wants, and the rules explain this. We, the watchers, are never given all the rules, but it is clear from the story lines that the team members have learned them and that they are essential for preserving their lives.
Fourth, Leroy Jethro puts great importance on the safety of his team; he will do all he can to protect them and to bring them home. At the end of the episode mentioned above, Tony off-handedly thanks Gibbs, “Thanks, by the way, for bringing in Interpol.” And Gibbs answers with just the faintest hint of a smile, “You do what you gotta do.” Which means, whatever I need to do to protect my team, I’m going to do it. I’ll get the Admiral to send in Interpol if necessary, because I will protect my team.
And last, he is devoted to them. He is kind toward their weaknesses, always giving a fatherly hug to Abby when she needs it. He is more tender toward the women on the team, but never even slightly sexual—he treats Abby, Ziva and Bishop, as a sister or a daughter. With the men, he is less tender, and gives fewer words but he offers words of affirmation when deserved and we see the men thrive on this. Each one on Gibbs’ team knows he or she is valued by him and is expected to pull their share of the weight.
Wow, I see a lot of spiritual leadership lessons here. Though there is nothing in the story to suggest that Gibbs is a Christ follower, he does make some righteous choices. And they bring good results.
So how does a Christian lead? Well, for sure it means being a fully supportive leader. We choose people for our team—staff, volunteers, lay leaders. And after we choose them, we are supportive of them. Jesus called Zacchaeus and then said to him, “I’m coming to your house today.” He was saying, “We’ll be friends and I’m behind you!” People muttered against Jesus and disagreed with his support of Zacchaeus, but Jesus stood by his man. Zacchaeus learned the rules, and announced he would not only give half his money to the poor, but he would also give back four times the amount he had cheated anybody! Jesus affirmed him by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:1-9).
Leaders also need to have high expectations for their team members and then let them do their thing. I remember each of my capable secretaries when I was Director of Women’s Ministries. Janice, Robyn, Katie, and Christi (they kept leaving to have babies or go to the mission field) knew how to design and produce retreat booklets, monthly newsletters, flyers and publicity for the Christmas event. They were the experts, not me. And I hope I showed my appreciation for their skills.
For sure, the godly leader must be kind to his team members, and treat each one with proper respect. The apostle Paul tells young pastor Timothy to treat the men in his congregation and on his leadership team as fathers and brothers, and the women he works with as sisters, and Paul adds, “with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1).
So, maybe I exaggerated a bit when I said that everything I needed to learn about leadership I learned from Leroy Jethro Gibbs. I’ve learned much more about leadership from the Bible and from godly people who practice obedience to God’s commands.
But I did learn some good things from NCIS.