Are You More Capt. Sobel or Maj. Winters?


I will not follow someone who does not have authority in my life.  There is an undeniable link between leadership and authority.  They’re inseparable.

There are two types of authority: positional and personal.  More than likely, principals, police officers, coaches, and politicians will hold positional authority in your life.  You will follow their leadership on the basis of the office they hold.

You build personal authority on the bedrock of relationships.  The deeper the relationship, the more personal authority someone has.  As personal authority increases, the extent to which you are willing you are to follow that person regardless of the destination.

I watch the series Band of Brothers at least twice per year.  The drama of the story, apart from the war and missions, is the rivalry between Capt. Sobel and Maj. Winters.

We first meet Sobel and Winters at paratrooper training in Toccoa, Georgia.  Currahee!  Sobel is Winters’ senior officer at the time (Lt. Winters when we first meet him).  Capt. Sobel is a task master; he persists in riding his soldiers.  He demands excellence and perfection from them.  He trains and conditions his men harder than any other company in the regiment.  In fact, Easy Company’s early reputation hinges on their peak physical conditioning.  It’s still a mystery, but somehow Sobel meets the high physical standards he has set for his men.  To make matters worse Capt. Sobel often finds the minutest infraction to deny a weekend pass for his men.

Contrast that with Maj. Winters who takes the time to get to know the men he leads and to care for their wellbeing.  Winters encourages his soldiers to follow Capt. Sobel’s leadership.  At one point a group of sergeants gathers to air their grievances against Capt. Sobel in secret.  In this moment, Winters could have led a coup against Sobel to seize leadership of the company.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he urges the sergeants to drop their complaints and go about it the right way.  The sergeants obliged.

In one notorious example, Sobel got his men “killed” in an ambush during a training exercise because he couldn’t read a map and lacked patience.  Capt. Sobel got reassigned before the D-Day invasion at Normandy.  His soldiers didn’t want to follow him into a training mission, let alone battle.

But those same men of Easy Company followed Maj. Winters from the D-Day invasion at Normandy to Bastogne and the Bulge all the way to Hitler’s Eagles Nest high in the German mountains.  The difference between Sobel and Winters was their authority with their soldiers: Capt. Sobel had positional authority, Maj. Winters had personal authority.

How does this translate to leading volunteers in student ministry?

By sheer virtue of your position as student pastor you have a level of positional authority.  Positional authority leads to transactional leadership.  Here’s the idea behind transactional leadership: let me instill in you these 5 principles of leadership to get a greater ROI for me.  Positional authority, transactional leadership is easy.  Transactional leadership acts and then listens.

What if you took your leadership to a different level?  What if you looked at volunteers as people, not pawns?  I would suggest that personal authority leads to relational leadership.  Here’s the idea behind relational leadership: let me get to know you, care for you, and mentor you to become the best leader you can be.  Personal authority, relational leadership is slower, messier, and riskier.  Relational leadership listens and then acts.  You can lead further and empower volunteers with an approach like relational leadership.

Transactional leadership is about the leader.  Relational leadership is about the people.