This post completes the 10 part series on Leadership Lessons from the book Nehemiah.
Leaders do not argue with their opponents.
Proponents and opponents: those for and against something. Every leader has both in the circle of influence. Nehemiah was no different. He had received word of the condition of Jerusalem’s walls and his heart was broken. He had prayed, sensing a God-given mission, and approached the king for assistance. He made the long trip to Jerusalem, surveyed the situation first-hand, and gave a reasonable and attainable goal to the people. When Sanballat and Tobiah approached Nehemiah, sounding like children on the playground, a choice had to be made. Does he move forward with his plans or does he come down off the wall and argue with them about the legitimacy of his work? Does he make wise use of his time and strength by carrying out the work or does he waste time, energy, and strength arguing whether it could or could not be accomplished? Nehemiah chose in that pivotal and critical moment to not argue. As the work continued and his opponent’s displeasure became louder, he later made his decision known, loud and clear. He said, “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” [Nehemiah 6:3]
There is a difference between casting and defending a vision before those you lead and arguing with them about the legitimacy of that vision. There is a difference between answering legitimate questions from the organization and arguing with them about it. The difference : the opponent’s spirit. Nehemiah opponents were not genuinely concerned with his vision. They were not there to understand better the work at hand. They were not there to investigate how they might be involved. Instead, their spirit was one that simply wanted to see the work stopped and the Israelites embarrassed. Period. Leaders must decide where they will spend their precious time, strength, and energy. Will they spend it helping their opponents who genuinely want to better understand their vision and decision? Or, will they spend it arguing with an opponent who only wishes to see the work stop or fail? Nehemiah answers this question for us. Leaders lead confidently and choose not to argue, instead, inform and encourage. Ed Stetzer sums this matter up perfectly. He said, “You do not have to show up to every argument you are invited to.”
Leaders display self-confidence when facing opposition.
As Nehemiah begins his work on rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, there was opposition to the work. This opposition came in the form of two individuals who belonged to a people who had been enemies of Israel for generations. As these two stood by snickering and laughing at Nehemiah’s people, he confidently reminds them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.” Nehemiah knew deep down in his heart that the commission he had been given by God was not up for vote. He knew that committee approval was not needed. He knew, as the late Dr. Adrian Rogers had said, “You never lead by caravan”. His self-confidence in the face of opposition was the direct result of his confidence in God.
Leaders today, whether in spiritual or secular circles, must understand that opposition is eventual. That being true, what matters then is how the leader deals with it. Nehemiah confidently stood and declared He was following the plan God had laid out for him. No doubt. A leader must display a high level of self-confidence. If not, all of his/her decisions will be questioned, whether by those who don’t agree, and even the leader himself. People within an organization will appreciate and respect a leader who displays confidence in a decision made. For them, there is a sense of confidence and ease when their leadership confidently hold to their convictions, regardless of opposition.
Leaders are not discouraged by opposition.
God gives leaders burdens and visions for what He would have them to do. The leaders in turn communicate to the people how the burden and vision are to be carried out in the form of clear goals. Detractors will be there to argue, disapprove, and challenge the burden, vision, and goal. Nehemiah watched this scenario play itself out before his very eyes. Just as soon as he and the people began to build, Sanballat and Tobiah, enemies of the people of Israel, came on the scene ridicule and make fun of the Israelites with the hope of discouraging them. In the face of their laughter, Nehemiah stands firm and, in essence says that “You have no voice here, God has given this task to us and He will reward us. Leave us alone”.
Leaders today will always face a certain amount of opposition. It is not possible to lead an organization that has people with different opinions, desires, tastes, and expectations and expect everyone to be happy with the direction of that organization. This is true whether the organization is secular or spiritual. Leaders must be clear on the mission that God has given them and lead appropriately. It is certainty of the God-given mission that enables the leader to handle the opposition that comes their way.
Leaders set before their people clear goals.
“Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” (2:17) Once Nehemiah completed his physical tour of the burned city walls of Jerusalem, he fully understood the weight and gravity of the situation. He also clearly knew what had to be done. When his God-given burden to rebuild met his passion God’s city, the conditions were right for him to reveal a clear, concise, and purposeful goal. He said, “let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.” He did not say “let’s fix a gate and we’ll look at the rest later.” Instead, he set before the people a clear goal: rebuild. The people now knew what was expected of them. The would be able to measure progress and success. They would be able to see the end in sight. This goal also had a clear purpose, “that we may no longer be a reproach.” This ensured “buy-in” on the part of the people.
Leaders understand the importance of goal-setting. In the same way that Nehemiah placed a clear goal before his people, leaders today should always keep a goal before his/her people. These goals should be clear, not ambiguous. They should be simple, not complicated. They should be attainable, not far-fetched. Goals, where thoughtfully placed before an organization can motivate, improve productivity, and increase loyalty and commitment. The opposite is also true. If there is no organizational goal-setting, the people are left to themselves to figure out the markers for vision, success, and growth.
Leaders investigate situations firsthand.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah took three days to rest, plan, and to pray. One of the first activities afterwards was to survey the walls of Jerusalem for himself. “So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode. And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass. So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.” (2:11-15) He had heard the report on the condition of Jerusalem’s walls from a distance. It was this report that broke his heart and created within him a burden to act. In the middle of the night, he arose and began his own physical survey of the destruction. This “fact finding mission” was necessary for two reasons. First, seeing the damage with his own eyes would solidify Nehemiah’s resolve and fuel his passion to rebuild the walls of the city he so dearly loved. Second, seeing the damage with his own eyes allowed Nehemiah to calculate costs, manpower, and time needed to see the project through.
Regardless of the situation, whether it be related to personnel, finances, construction, etc., leaders have a responsibility to investigate to the point they have a comfortable and working knowledge of all matters at hand. This enables the leader, whether spiritual or secular, to remain connected to the organization he/she leads and make the appropriate decisions. This does not mean that leaders have to step in and fix everything for themselves. This is counterproductive. Dr. Al Mohler, in his new book, 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters, sums up this point succinctly. He writes,
Organizations change fast as the world changes around us. The effective leader deploys others within the organization to become specialists in the wide array of knowledge necessary to the total work. But that same leader has to make sure that he can at least hold an intelligent, helpful conversation with each of those leaders and managers about their work. The best leaders take this as an intellectual and organizational challenge that they grow to relish and appreciate. After all, our task is to deploy people so that each can do his or her job. In order to do this, we need to know what that job is, and that takes time and attention.
Leaders are well prepared and think of needs in advance
Nehemiah 2 gives us a fresh perspective on Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” The simple lesson in this quote is that planning is critical to success in any endeavor. Nehemiah had his heart broken over the condition of the city and people of Jerusalem. He prayed and God burdened his heart with a desire and goal to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem. So consumed with his goal, he took leave of his duties at the king’s side to see it through. A great deal happened in between the time God spoke to Nehemiah and Nehemiah speaking to the king. Verses seven and eight are the portrait of a key leadership trait. “ Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.” Nehemiah thought in advance what it would take to accomplish his God-given goal. He then presented this list of supplies and needs to the king when he asked for leave to Jerusalem. His request was honored. Imagine the scene conversely. Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, looks around and says, “Okay, who has the timber for the wall gates?” Imagine the awkwardness. Imagine the delay in the work. Imagine the disappointment of those who were trusting his leadership.
It is crucial for leaders to be prepared. They owe such preparation to God. They owe such preparation to those who are trusting their guidance. They owe such preparation to themselves for the sake of credibility. Whether leading in the spiritual or secular arena, those who would consider themselves “leaders” must think in advance so they might confront the fears, calm the anxieties, and elevate the confidence of those was are trusting them. A leader must be prepared to answer questions such as “What is involved in this endeavor?” “What will be the benefit?” “What are the challenges and potential obstacles ahead?” “What can we do to support this?” As a result of Nehemiah’s forethought, God was honored and the people encouraged. His leadership style flies in the face of what I would call “off-the-cuff” leadership. This style of leadership is rarely effective and is almost always frustrating and discouraging.
Leaders rearrange their priorities in order to accomplish their goals.
In Nehemiah 1:11, we are given a simple, yet telling description of this leader, “and I was the king’s cupbearer”. Nehemiah had specific duties as the king’s cupbearer. He was a trusted servant, a confidant, personal advisor, and of course he was the front line defense in the prevention of the king being poisoned either accidentally or as part of an assassination plot. The “cupbearer” was his priority. The “cupbearer” was his professional identification. The “cupbearer” was his every-day job. In the midst of performing his daily duties, word comes to him of the condition of the people and the city wall back in Jerusalem. Chapter One chronicles his reaction to the news. God placed a great burden and a clear goal before Nehemiah through the news of his homeland. Verse five shows us what happens when a God-sized goal interferes with everyday life. “ And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” The goal must be pursued.
Leaders, whether spiritual or corporate, set priorities. At times, priorities are set for them. Whether it is church growth or increased profit, what drives a leader rises to the top. The question that must be answered is this, “Am I as a leader willing to let the priorities I have set for myself be shuffled in order to accomplish a God-given goal?” Leaders are willing to allow their “to do” list that is generated by personal desires and wishes to become a “for Him” list that takes into account God’s plan and goal for them. From his prominent position, Nehemiah took leave in order to carry out the burden given to him. A leader must also take leave of the temporary focuses of life in order to pursue the eternal blessings of obedience.