Lessons in Leadership (Part 2)

Last week we were looking at some leadership qualities of Nehemiah, a man who was sent by the Persian king to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.  We saw that Nehemiah was a man of prayer and a man of compassion – both important qualities for any godly leader to possess.  This week I want to look at a couple of more characteristics of Nehemiah that made him an effective leader.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, he showed great patience.  He came with an entourage from the king, which no doubt attracted a lot of attention.  But instead of immediately announcing his intentions, Nehemiah spends several days getting a feel for the situation, even doing some inspection work at night so as not to tip his hand as to why he was there.  Then he revealed to the people his plan and how the job was going to get done (Neh. 2:11-18).

Good leaders do that, especially going into new situations.  When I was a teacher, our seminary got a new president who lacked a background in higher education and was unknown to most of the faculty.  The school had gone through a number of administrative changes and the staff was understandably guarded and skeptical.  But he showed the patience of Nehemiah by not pretending to have the answers.  Instead he got to know each of us personally, asking us questions and giving us a chance to know him.  Consequently, when he revealed his plan for major changes a year later, everyone understood what he was doing, why he was doing it, and the need for it to be done.

Another quality Nehemiah demonstrates is an understanding of human nature.  As he sets up his work force to begin building the wall, he has all parts of the wall being worked on at the same time, with work crews put near their places of occupation or their homes (Neh. 3).  This accomplishes several things:  1) People are working on the section of wall and/or gate most important to them personally. This motivates them to not only want to build it, but to build it well.  2) Signs of progress are now being seen all over the city, thus encouraging the hearts of a discouraged people.  3) Neighbors working on similar projects around the city are going to naturally feel some friendly competition to finish their section faster and better than anyone else’s.

Good leaders also know how to motivate.  They understand what will excite their followers and get them behind a project. They know people are naturally concerned about how it is going to affect them personally.  Nehemiah had them working for their own protection and pride (in the best sense of that word).

Again, the challenge:  Do we possess these qualities as leaders?  Do we jump into situations and flex our authority muscles simply because we want to see things happen, or do we have the patience to wait until we fully understand the situation and devise a plan that works?  And how well do we know our people?  Do we really comprehend what makes them tick and what brings out the best in them, or only assume that we do?  If we are going to be wise and truly Christian in our leadership styles, we need to ask God to develop these traits of patience and understanding in each one of us.  And He will.

Lessons in Leadership

Nehemiah is one of the greatest examples of leadership we have in the Bible. As a Jew, he held the high position of cup-bearer to Artaxerxes, king of the Persian empire. He not only served the king his wine, but tasted it first to make sure it wasn’t poisoned by some political enemy. Therefore, Nehemiah was someone the king trusted implicitly.

Long story short, Nehemiah gets word that Jerusalem is still in ruins, and its people are struggling, discouraged, and being hassled by their Arab neighbors. Since he is in a position to help, he looks for the right opportunity to approach the king about the problem and is appointed as governor to Jerusalem, commissioned to rebuild its walls and creating a viable city once more. While carrying out this task, he shows many exemplary qualities of leadership from which we can learn.

The first thing we learn about Nehemiah is that he is a man of compassion. This first shows up in his response to hearing of the plight of his people in Jerusalem: “I sat down and wept.” (Neh. 1:4). His caring is also expressed in his deep desire (at great cost to himself) to do something about it. He risks the king’s disfavor, possibly his position, and certainly the comfortable lifestyle he had enjoyed, by going to bat for his fellow Israelites and then taking action once he got permission.

Nehemiah was also a man of prayer, which is revealed right from the beginning
of this book as, upon hearing the sad news from his brother, he fasts and prays before God concerning the situation and about providing an opportunity to talk to the king (Neh. 1:4-11). Throughout the story we see Nehemiah again and again turning to God in prayer with the various problems he encounters along the way; seeking encouragement, strength and direction. It demonstrates a humble and obedient spirit on his part.

This presents a real challenge for each of us who are in leadership positions, whether in our homes, businesses, churches or communities. Are we leaders who have compassion for the people we lead? Do we really care for them and their well-being or do we simply go through the motions of carrying out our responsibilities, often feeling burdened by it all? People sense when we really care, especially our children and those closest to us. Nehemiah cared, and caring made him a more effective leader.

The other challenge concerns our prayer life. How much to we pray? Beyond grace at meals and the prayers we may say before rushing out to work in the morning or dropping into bed at night, do we talk to God about our family problems, our business decisions, the frustrations and obstacles we have to deal with each day? Or have we neatly compartmentalized prayer as a spiritual activity unrelated to real life issues? For Nehemiah, prayer was a natural part of life; his first impulse when facing any situation.

When you think about it, these two qualities are deeply intertwined. You can’t simple conjure up caring. When you really pray and touch the heart of God, you begin to
care the way he cares. And when you really care about issues, and especially the people involved, you are more likely to pray. So, how’s your prayer/care index today?