Last week, I shared the first half of my talk at the Christian Legal Society meeting on March 13th which focused on a few of the leadership traits demonstrated by Joshua. We talked about how he recognized he was ultimately not in control over the people he was attempting to lead, and opted for a different type of leadership than top-down compliance. This was important to highlight not only to assist you when you actually do have some element of management authority over people, but more as evidence that you don’t need that authority to begin leading now. And in fact, many times it is those who don’t have any authority over us at all who demonstrate true leadership.
Today we continue with our conversation, but focus on another Biblical leader, Nehemiah. If you aren’t up on your Old Testament outside of maybe Genesis, Psalms and Proverbs, don’t feel bad. I admit that I had only read Nehemiah on the occasions when reading through the whole Bible in a year, and approached it more from a check the box standpoint than see what God wants to reveal to me in these passages today. So it was both convicting and refreshing to read it this time in preparation for this talk, in an effort to see not just what I could learn, but more importantly what CLS and you could learn as well!
The leadership qualities we’re focusing on here are: 1) caring, 2) offering to help and 3) thanking people publicly. First, some context (though I encourage you to go read the book of Nehemiah in its entirety). The book of Nehemiah details the process by which Nehemiah led an effort to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem between 444 and 430 BC. While Nehemiah had a position of some authority within the secular government of the king, he was a layman relative to the Jewish people he leads in this story (i.e. he’s not a priest or prophet).
We see how much Nehemiah cares about the people and their plight early in the book and throughout. In verses 3-4 he talks about his profound grief, and that he fasted and prayed on behalf of the Jews who were now in harms way. In Chapter 2: 17, 20, we see his use of the words we and us instead of I and me. Through his empathy he sees himself as one of them. In the first half of Chapter 5, he is eating with the workers and getting a first-hand look at the extreme poverty they are experiencing. He then advocates on their behalf for better conditions. And in the remainder of Chapter 5 we hear of his generosity.
Does it take authority, rank or title to care about people? Not at all! You can practice this from any relative position in a relationship. In fact, I would suggest it is unlikely you will begin this depth of caring after gaining some measure of authority if you didn’t exercise it before. The bottom line is, people may follow you for a short time based upon your position of power of them, but if you show you deeply care about them, they will follow you for the long term.
Nehemiah is also willing to help. He’s not one to just hear about the plight of people, and then sit back and ponder in sadness. His caring motivates him to action, and in Chapter 2:5 he goes to the king and offers to rebuild the wall. What can you offer to do for someone else? What isn’t in your job description that would be a help to someone? Offer to help from a place of deep caring, and people will follow you.
Finally, Nehemiah thanked people in public. In fact, Chapter 3 lists out in almost movie-credit form each and every worker who helped rebuild the wall, and what their role was. For example, did you know that “The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place.” (Verse 3) Or “The Valley Gate was repaired by Hanun and the residents of Zanoah. They rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. They also repaired a thousand cubits[c] of the wall as far as the Dung Gate.” (Verse 13) If you’re a descendant of these families, how cool!
We know these names and what they did only because Nehemiah wrote them all down and credited them for their work. How can you credit others for their work or contributions? Not sure where to start with this? How about the next time you receive outstanding service at a restaurant, take the extra time to tell that person how well they did their work, what specifically they did which was above and beyond, and how much you appreciate it (of course, you should also tip accordingly!).
Care, help, thank. Put these together with last week’s tips about letting go and not relying on compliance in order to lead, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a strong leader, whether or not you ever have a tile, position or rank (but my hunch is those things will likely follow).