I just wrapped up my annual reading of the Bible. It was my number one read for 2013. Every year I gain new insights and important reminders to grow stronger in my faith. I’m particularly sensitive to passages that can also help me be a better leader.
Here are ten leadership lessons I gleaned from my journey through the Bible this year, presented in book order:
1. Leaders go above and beyond.
“And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt.” – Joseph to the Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 41:33)
It’s hard to read the story of Joseph and not find a lesson on leadership. And here’s a simple reminder. Leader’s look for opportunities to do more than expected. Here Joseph is called before the Pharaoh to interpret a dream. He does that, bringing mixed news of abundant harvest and subsequent drought. But he doesn’t stop there. Joseph offers a plan on how to proceed and the first part of that plan is to appoint someone (else) to put it into effect. Of course, Pharaoh was smart enough to know the best leader was right in front of him.
2. Leaders carry other’s burdens.
“They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.” – God to Moses (Numbers 11:16-17)
While the primary point of this passage is instruction for Moses to select 70 leaders who can ease his load, the implication is that leaders also ease the burden of those they are leading. We’ve all worked for managers. They assign tasks, often with impossible constraints, seeking to make their jobs easier. Leaders, however, see their primary job to ease the burden of those who work in the organization. They work tirelessly to serve those they lead, finding ways to secure resources, cutting through bureaucracy and inspiring their team to do their very best. Managers impose burdens. Leaders lift them.
3. Leaders confront fear in others.
“Then the officers shall add, ‘Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too.’” – Instructions for battle readiness (Deuteronomy 20:8)
Fear is a contagion. Leaders understand that some initiatives require quarantining those who are less confident from those who are; lest the entire team be dragged down by doubt. When the great Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton lost his ship to the ice, he kept both the “troublemakers and the troubled close by…keep them from demoralizing others on what promised to be a very difficult journey.” (Morrell & Capparell, Shackleton’s Way). As leaders, we need to keep the fearful among our teams nearby as well.
4. Leaders seek the Lord.
“As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success.” – Of King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:5)
One can’t read through the Bible without catching the central lesson for us leaders: we are under Authority. Earlier Abijah, King of Judah, reminded his brothers, “Men of Israel, do not fight against the LORD, the God of your fathers, for you will not succeed” (2 Chronicles 13:12). It may seam rather obvious, but as leaders we often forget this central truth just as King Uzziah did. “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall” (2 Chronicles 26:16)
5. Leaders sow even when discouraged.
“He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)
Endurance is the true test of leadership. To keep going, planting seeds and working the ground, even through times of personal discouragement takes determination. In those times, it’s tempting to either go into hiding or become so preoccupied with our pain that we try to marshall others to our need. This verse is a gentle reminder, that even in times of personal need, sowing into other’s lives is still possible. And when we do, we’ll always return with more than we gave.
6. Leaders do what they say.
“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” (Proverbs 14:23)
7. Leaders make detractors work hard.
“Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’” – Daniel’s detractors (Daniel 6:5)
Daniel was one of 120 administrators in King Darius’ kingdom. His work ethic and integrity was so remarkable that Darius “planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (Daniel 6:3). Daniel’s peers would have none of that so they set out to find something to accuse him of. They was a tall order. As leaders, we should follow Daniel’s example and by our behavior make our detractors work harder than our supporters.
8. Leaders don’t need everything settled to commit to the right cause.
“The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:8)
God just told His people to get to work. Though they were impoverished, their task was to rebuild the temple. Never mind the cost for supplies and furnishings. “I’ve got this,” said God. “You do your part.” And when these leaders committed to the work, they found provision from a most unexpected source: their Persian ruler financed the project from tax revenues (Ezra 6:8-12). The first task of a leader is not to secure provision but to establish direction. Provision follows vision.
9. Leaders resist self-enshrinement
“We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” – James & John to Jesus (Mark 10:35)
This astonishing comment was made to Jesus by two of his closest disciples. James and John, perhaps emboldened by the invitation they and Peter received to be alone with Jesus during His transfiguration, went on to ask Jesus to be seated (permanently) at His left and right hand. Jesus graciously replied that they don’t know what they are are asking. As leaders, we do well to remember that as well. Leadership is a responsibility to serve (Mark 10:42-45), not an opportunity to establish a throne.
10. Leaders take advantage of present opportunities.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)
This is a favorite verse of mine. It reminds me to be reflective on how I live. What stood out to me when I read it again this year was what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t suggest, as so many popular books do, to go out and make opportunities. No. It simply says to make the most of the opportunities that are already present. Could it be that there’s more than enough goodness already right in front of us?
What have you learned about leadership from your reading of the Bible this year?