Tuesday 1 May 2012


Lessons on leadership from Nehemiah’s life

Imagine a “nobody” with the courage to lead a group of people to rebuild a city wall in a faraway land. Few among his peers—whether they were somebody or nobody—would ever dare attempt such a great exploit. That’s why Nehemiah, a king’s cupbearer, never fails to inspire me when the subject of leadership crops up. 

Bad news reached Nehemiah’s ears: The walls of Jerusalem are in ruins. But so what? Of what concern is that to me, a cup bearer, Nehemiah might have asked. Doesn’t it sound familiar? In today’s context it might be: Not enough young people interested in becoming teachers, urban poverty, corruption, moral degradation, and the list goes on. But what is that to me? Use others, I’m not good enough, it’s too difficult, it’ll never work.

But Nehemiah marched to a different drumbeat. He was in tune with God’s plans for the nation of Israel—that the walls surrounding Jerusalem be rebuilt. He sensed the need of the hour; he broke down and cried out to God; he prayed that he might be an instrument to fulfill God’s plan. 
Without a vision, the people perish. If there is no vision, purpose and direction in our lives, we will be drifting like flotsam, tossed by the waves. In a sense, leaders are loners, like eagles more than chickens. While others remain unmoved, they see the need, arise to their calling, and then take action. 

Solitude has been and will always be an unmistakable hallmark in the lives of leaders. Like eaglesthey wait upon God, and then soar up to the heavenlies (Isaiah 40:31).

Before building the wall, Nehemiah went out at night to survey the ruins with a few others, but he did not tell anyone what God had called him to do. He must have been laying out before God his plans, “acknowledging Him in all his ways” and asking Him that He will “direct his steps” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Is this what You want me to do? Is this the way to go about it? Am I moving in step with You, or am I too fast or too slow? 

Before Jesus started his public ministry, He was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1). Finally, victorious over temptation, and being ministered to by angels, He started His ministry of preaching, healing and deliverance. 
The “desert experience” is essential in a leader’s life. How much time a leader spends in solitude before God—away from public eyes—will, to a large extent, determine the effectiveness of his ministry.

Nehemiah decided to move out of his comfort zone—a secure, cushy job in the palace. Likewise, leaders must be willing to die to self and pay the price if they want to see fruit (lasting impact) through their service (John 12:24).

We are familiar with “Don’t rock the boat; stay where you are comfortable.” But management guru Tom Peters has his own version: “Don’t’ rock the boat. Sink it and start over.” To embrace change and innovation, we need to get rid of the old and start anew. New wine cannot be poured into old wineskins (Luke 5:37).The familiar refrain, But we’ve always done it that way, is passé.

Nehemiah assigned each family to rebuild a different section of the wall. Burdens were shared, and resources came from different quarters—the Persian king, whom Nehemiah served, provided timber for the city gates. Through teamwork, Nehemiah built the wall in record time—52 days.

But sharing also implies humility and love. No one claimed they were superior and had a greater hand in the project. Nehemiah built inter-personal bridges and appeased all parties, including a needy group who griped of high interest on their loans from rich brothers (Nehemiah 5:10).

All of us are potential leaders. We should try to connect with others: learn their names, ask about their interests and, in certain cases, their fears and dreams. Don’t try to impress others with what we know or have achieved. After all, people don’t care how much we know; they want to know how much we care.

Despite Tobiah’s taunting—even if a fox were to climb on the wall, it will crumble down— Nehemiah was unfazed. 

At one stage during the construction, the people were weary and discouraged by the volume of rubble that had to be removed (Nehemiah 4:10). But nevertheless, they soldiered on.

Nehemiah had faith in the God who called him. He organised and supervised the work. They toiled and they prayed. While half the men did the work, the other half were armed to ward off possible attacks by their enemies.

According to Paul Meyer, the founder of the Success Motivation Institute, “Ninety percent of those who fail are not actually defeated. They simply quit.” If people do not know how to handle discouragement, then they will give up. 

Like a handphone that needs to be recharged regularly, we need to rest periodically to rejuvenate the spirit, soul and body. *   

Nehemiah was single-minded in his mission—to restore God’s glory back to Jerusalem, whose walls lay in ruins. He did not get side-tracked, wasting his time and energy, fighting with his enemies and detractors, such as Tobiah.

Kids who direct the sun’s heat on an ant using a magnifying glass know the power of focus. In no time, the ants will shrivel up in the heat and die.

It’s important to be focused. Do not allow different concerns to distract us or come under the tyranny of the urgent that we miss out on the significant. Planned neglect of the trivial is needed if we want to remain focused.

The apostle Paul demonstrated single-mindedness: He had one main goal; he kept pressing on; he forgot the past; he looked towards the future.

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

We can learn from the Japanese philosophy, kaizen, which means “continuous improvement”. To think we have arrived is synonymous with complacency and signals the end of self-improvement. 

Wealth, fame and power are no measures of success; the only true measure is the ratio between what we might have been and what we have become.

If God gives us 10 talents and we multiply it by half—only five talents—we have not realised our full potential.

But if God gives us five talents and we produce five or ten talents, we have truly lived up to our potential.

As we meditate on and apply the wealth of leadership principles from Nehemiah, we will be able to rejoice when our mission is accomplished. Like Nehemiah, we will proclaim, “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). 

How do we monitor the progress we are making in our spiritual journey? Have we lived up to our full potential?

By embracing a God-inspired vision, we can live purposefully—by design and not by default.

Being so focused and determined that we have one objective in mind

Exploring the vital issue of leadership succession


By doing a series of neck exercises, one can refresh one’s spirit. I’d like to call this “stress buster” by the name posture:

Sit upright on a chair. Look upwards and meditate on Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” 

Next, tilt your head and attempt to touch your shoulder with your ear. As you do this, say this: “I cast all my anxiety on Him because He cares for me”(1 Peter 5:7). Next, tilt your head the other side and declare similarly.

Then, droop your head forwards and remind yourself: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). Pride is a pitfall that leaders constantly need to be on guard against.

Finally, position your head upright and look straight ahead. Next, turn your head from side to side, as if it were like a swivel chair. Remind yourself to be vigilant: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). For, when God’s work advances, there will be detractors and enemies, which the devil can use against us.
Remind yourself that spiritual warfare is inherent in any godly enterprise, but we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). Pray, confess the positive, speak His Word with spiritual authority and “possess the land”.

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