Good leaders attract followers, and they are able to take others where they would not go on their own and move them toward a common cause or vision. Does this just happen?
I have lived long enough to know that few books were written on Leadership prior to the 1990’s. Just in recent decades, leadership has vaulted to the forefront of organizational discussion, classroom research, faith group meetings and publishing house caucuses across the world. Leadership tended to define itself better in person than on a page, and usually with an “I’m the boss and you are not” attitude. And yet sound, more effective demonstrations of healthy leadership are as old as antiquity. We can find sound examples of outstanding leadership in readings written years ago!
Today, leadership guru’s have been revered. Men like Warren Bennis, John Maxwell, Terry Anderson, Bob Buford, Ceril Barber and Jim Collins. Books on the topic now abound in this leadership revolutionary age. One may wonder “why it has taken so long to be addressed? Maybe it is because good leadership is one of those qualities that you recognize when you see it, but it is difficult to describe. We tend to find the answers to plaguing questions only when we begin to look specifically for them.
A great place to read between the lines and find the nuggets of good leadership is in the biblical book of Nehemiah. Looking at the life of someone who led with excellence can help us draw a few conclusions. Nehemiah, the great Israelite leader, offers us scores of key lessons on leadership if we take the time to scrutinize his role as a leader. Let me share four general key lessons in leadership for anyone looking for guidance.
- Leadership Is Providential
God raised up Nehemiah to accomplish an important mission. God is the active agent leading and directing. This is evident in how He moves in the king’s heart and elevates people to do his bidding. This is seen in both the lives of Nehemiah and his contemporary, Ezra. The book of Nehemiah demonstrates the indisputable role of Providence in leadership. This is still true today.
As A.D. Clarke confirms in his biblical theology on leadership, “Leadership in the Bible is framed within the overarching context of divine sovereignty.” I am not talking about the common misleading verbiage “Leaders are born”. I am talking about God’s willingness to intervene and assist us when we ask for His help.
- Leadership is Spiritual Hard Work
Nehemiah exemplifies the interplay between prayer, planning, and implementing strategic hard work. These work in tandem. Andy Stanley sums this up well in his book, Visioneering: “This [Nehemiah] is a tale of hard work, prayer and (behind the scenes) divine intervention. Nothing out of the ordinary here.” There are no shortcuts in leadership, but God can make the learning curve much shorter.
Admittedly, there is a grind to leadership—a continual pressing forward in planning, preparing, navigating conflict, executing and finishing. The dramatic rise of leadership studies and the attention that many leaders attract may cause some to miss this simple fact: Leadership is challenging and is not without strong effort.
- Leaders Use Projects to Build People
I do not think Nehemiah used people to build a wall; I believe Nehemiah used the wall construction to build a people who were beaten, distraught and unmotivated. The people were not his means to an end. Although Nehemiah faced a daunting project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, this project was secondary to the plight of the people. Stephen Dempster writes, “Nehemiah is regarded as the wall builder in Jerusalem, and this is the theme that resonates in the book. But his story is not only about building the physical walls of Jerusalem for physical protection, it is also a story of building spiritual walls around the people with the Word of God and thus was primarily building up the people.”
We must never forget – God created us to be people focused, not project focused.
- Leaders Persevere
Finally, as Mark Dever notes, “A godly leader keeps leading.” Projects end. Visions are reached and tasks get accomplished. But a leader continues to lead. There are always new places to take others where they would not go on their own. Certainly, Nehemiah faced adversity and conflict in the midst of building the wall, a task that required fortitude to see it completed. Yet, when the wall was built, he continued to lead through political, social and spiritual means as a governor. New leadership challenges emerged, but the call was the same: Remain steadfast and faithful; Lead. Good and great leaders persevere through the changing seasons of leadership, remembering the call to long-term faithfulness.
The book of Nehemiah concludes with a prayer regarding the leader’s legacy: “Remember me, O my God, for good” (Neh. 13:31). Nehemiah’s heart bled for a dependency on God in the pursuit of his faithfulness. Godly leaders recognize their time of leadership will certainly come to an end, but he sought God’s presence and help for as long as his leadership was exercised. May we all have the same heart and bleed with that same passion.