Four Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah (Part 2)

Yesterday I shared two leadership lessons from Nehemiah 13. The final chapter in the Book of Nehemiah gives us a picture of how a great leader responded when there was a major drift among the people he led. I will pick up where I left off yesterday…

3 – Confront problem people.

Vision is translated via people, not paper. So when there are leaders within an organizational or ministry culture living in contradiction to the stated mission, the people are led in a plethora of directions. Regardless of what the vision or values are on paper, people follow people.

For this reason, Nehemiah boldly confronted the problem people. Obviously I am not nor can I suggest that leaders mimic his tactics: throwing gear out of a person’s living quarters (13:8), threatening force (13:21), or beating some men (13:25). But leaders must run to problems, not away from them. The reality is that problem people in an organization or ministry rarely self-correct. They need to be lovingly confronted and called to repentance. If they refuse to repent from causing division, having a negative attitude, causing problems, or being unwilling to passionately live and execute the mission, they must be removed from the team.

From personal experience I can say, every single time I have removed a leader who continually displayed an “attitude problem,” the culture of the team immediately improved—overnight. And every single time, I have rebuked myself for not moving more quickly.

4 – Give specific direction.

Leaders hate being known as “micro-managers.” And because of their sensitivity to the accusation, they often have a tendency not to step in with specific direction, even when they need to do so. They fear they are overstepping their role, under-cutting other leaders, or getting too involved in the details. But there are times when clear and specific direction is necessary. When the mission is not being executed well, when there is a chasm between stated vision and actual action, leaders neglect their responsibility if they do not step in with specific direction.

For example, when Nehemiah discovered that goods were being sold on the Sabbath, he did not merely announce, “This must stop!” He reminded people of the Lord’s righteous anger and then gave very specific instructions. He gave orders to close the gates to the city so that tradesmen could not enter with products, posted men at the gates, and even personally addressed the tradesmen who were camped outside the gates.

At times, giving clear overarching direction is best for the people and the organization. At other times, leaders must step into the details. It takes wisdom to know the difference. Nehemiah knew that because the drift was so blatant, his involvement with the details was essential.