Competition in the market, changing needs and preferences of workers and employees, and the need to remain useful and productive has made organizations to think of effective leadership styles. While contemporary leaders in the present era can be emulated, some organizations have considered drawing inspirations from the Biblical teachings.Leaders that have been nurtured from the biblical context are believed to be useful in cultivating followers and implementing change in organizations. When studying biblical leaders, the philosophy of servant leadership finds essential application in understanding how leaders relate to their followers. Robert Greenleaf was the first to coin the idea of servant leadership from the biblical teachings, and it has found significant applications in transforming and inducing changes in organizations. Nehemiah is one of the biblical leaders that exemplified the qualities of servant leaders.
Personal Attributes of Servant Leaders
The basic definition of a leader is that the person stands out unique by influencing followers. Robert Greenleaf (2002) discusses ten unique attributes exhibited by servant leaders. These unique attributes make servant leaders successful in leading others while at the same time having a positive impact on their followers. In Robert Greenleaf’s website (2019), a servant leader is defined as “a leader that seeks to enrich the lives of the followers, through the creation of a caring world…” Greenleaf emphasized that a servant leader starts by being servants first.Before one can lead others, one has to endure a moment of serving others. Nehemiah fits into this category in the sense that he served as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes before he received a call to lead God’s people in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem (Maciariello, 2003).Lynch and Friedman (2013) explain that servant leaders are humble before God. It is through humility through serving God that a servant gets God’s calling to serve His people.
Servant leaders exhibit unique personal attributes before going out to lead others. Greenleaf (2003) explains that the primary quality of a servant leader is to listen. The leader may listen to God or the followers before making a decision. Biblically, a servant leader is prayerful. Nehemiah exhibited a holy life while waiting for a response from his God.Listening skills are necessary for any leadership position. While communication skills are relevant, a servant leader should learn to listen to juniors or top leaders and from God.God reveals himself through the Bible, His holy book. It is through reading the Bible that one realizes the calling and mission that God has for him. Additionally, a servant leader understands the difference that exists between power and authority. Nehemiah was aware of his role as a servant, and he submitted fully to King Artaxerxes while waiting for his time of leadership to mature. Before going to seek permission to the King, Nehemiah knelt and prayed to God. He believed that he could only win the king’s favor after he had won God’s favor. It is through these acts of humility that he was granted permission to go and rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem.
Servant leaders exhibit a strong sense of awareness. They are aware of changes taking place within the team and outside their unit. They understand the needs and desires of each member within the organization and sacrifice their personal interests by serving the needs of their followers.According to Miryam (n.d.), the heart of a servant leader stands out to be unique compared to a person that wants to lead first before becoming a leader. Again, Nehemiah exhibited a sense of awareness when serving at the king’s palace. Even though he was a cupbearer at the king’s palace, he was aware of the suffering of his tribesmen. He was aware of the humiliation that the Jews had suffered and sought to alleviate them of the pain. He had read the historical records and learned that God had a promise for his tribesmen. He strategically positioned himself to be used by God after he learned that his people and the city of Jerusalem needed redemption.
When discussing the leadership quality of servant leaders, the principles of empathy and healing cannot be ignored.Even though leadership comes with opportunities and challenges, servant leaders often sacrifice their happiness and material well-being for the common good of their followers. Umeanolue (2017) discusses Nehemiah’s strategic leadership qualities that compelled him to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. He understood the need to mobilize the followers. In Nehemiah 4: 3, Tobiah ridicules Nehemiah for building a wall that could be brought down by a fox. Instead of despairing, Nehemiah remains committed to the course of his duty. In the competitive world today, leaders face resistance and competition from within and outside the organizations. Good leaders should emulate Nehemiah’s leadership qualities. One should persevere in temptations and remain committed.
Servant leaders are visionary. They have a vision for the organization and will not be detracted by short-term wins or failures. They set strategic goals for their followers with the hope to have a positive impact in any position that they are called to serve. They may start from a humble beginning, but they end up leaving a legacy. Servant leaders spend time cultivating and nurturing their followers. They also focus on continuous improvement by studying or creating a suitable environment for learning to take place.Nehemiah exhibited empathy and healing by leading the team in rebuilding the wall. He was not concerned about the reputation but was committed to the mission of fulfilling the vision he had for his fellow Jews.
Nehemiah’s Interpersonal Leadership Skills
Interpersonal skills are necessary for forging relationships with followers while getting the job done. Servant leaders exhibit interpersonal skills by cultivating transformative leadership styles. They do not command the followers but instead work with their followers to develop solutions for issues affecting organizations. They stay open to corrections, always willing to learn, and having creative mindsets for problem-solving skills. Chiara and Bentein (2015) explain that interpersonal leadership skills are crucial in mobilizing followers to pursue common goals. Since servant leaders lead through actions, interpersonal leadership skills such as communication skills, negotiation skills, problem-solving skills, and decision-making abilities help them win the support of their followers without necessarily having to enter into conflicts. They do not command coarse their followers but instead lead through an example with minimal expectations. Nehemiah exhibited interpersonal leadership skills that helped him mobilize the followers to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
The ability of a leader to handle challenges is witnessed when the person can mobilize people of diverse cultures.Leaders in charge of multicultural organizations often find it difficult to mobilize people from different cultures to pursue common goals. When this happens, interpersonal skills come in ready to help the leader decide the area that is critical and the one that needs maximum attention. Nehemiah faced similar challenges when he set out to rebuild the city of his grandfathers. He had to mobilize people of diverse cultures, some disinterested in rebuilding the wall, while others being enemies of progress in his task.Tobiah kept discouraging Nehemiah with the hope that the leader could relent on his commitment. Nehemiah exhibited unique abilities of a servant leader by serving as an example. He endured the ridicule, took upon the risk of planning, working, and inspecting the wall and the city at night. Once the idea of rebuilding the wall was conceived in his heart, he found it difficult to give up. He felt compelled to accomplish what he had started, even when his enemies were at hand (Marciatiello, 2003).He remains dependent on God and prays each time before making a move. He did not want to please people, but he knew that once he had earned God’s favor, he could stand before men and accomplish the task he had been called to perform.
Nehemiah’s Contextual Leadership Style
Contextual leaders have unique abilities in developing different strategies that adapt to different environments. When issues crop up within the organization or the team that one is leading, a contextual leader will create strategies that adapt to the circumstances or ones that help him navigate the challenges and come up with a lasting solution. Contextual leaders may be said to be intelligent because they are quick to think and come up with solutions to problems. Nehemiah fits into this category from the point he was serving as a cupbearer to the king to the point he took the assignment of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem.
The story of Nehemiah rebuilding the wall is one of motivating stories in leadership where one can draw inspiration. In Nehemiah 2: 17 (New King James Version), it is indicated that workers had to build the wall with one hand while carrying an arrow and the bow with the hand. It is surprising that in spite of these challenges and fear of insecurity, the people managed to rebuild the wall in fifty-two days.Additionally, the decision to rebuild the wall was not an overnight decision. It was a decision conceived in the heart of a determined leader willing to forego everything for the sake of rewriting the history of Jerusalem. In spite of challenges from local political leaders who argued that they were the true descendants of Abraham. Nehemiah had to forge a strategy of overcoming the limitations.
Nehemiah was a servant leader with contextual skills that helped him overcome the resistance of his enemies.Maciariello (2003) explains that contextual leaders have the unique abilities to see through complex situations and forge solutions. When faced with challenging conditions, a contextual leader will draw inspiration from God. Nehemiah led a prayerful life that convinced him that God would not abandon His people. He drew inspiration from the past stories of how God has stood and defended his ancestors. He did not see the opposition as a challenge, but rather a stepping stone to opportunities to succeed. As a servant leader, he knew that he was not relying on human strengths. Human strengths fade. He understood his mission and vision for the people of God. He drew his inspiration and strengths from God, knowing that only God could help him realize the ideas he had for Jerusalem.
Nehemiah as a Servant Leader and Lessons for Contemporary Leaders
The leadership style of Nehemiah has significant lessons for contemporary leaders. Nehemiah devised a strategy to fulfill the vision that God had placed in his heart. His response to God’s call suits in Greenleaf’s ten principles of a servant leader.Nehemiah was ready to be used by God, in spite of the challenges that he was to face in carrying out the assigned task. After learning about the suffering of his fellow Jews, he dedicated his life to prayer and sought permission from King Artaxerxes. He had respect for authority and respected the government. He also knew that he was a servant to God and God’s people. He did not stage a revolution or rebellion against the king. He went and prayed before seeking permission.
Nehemiah served as an adorable example in the above case.Contemporary leaders have to commit their lives to God by understanding that one has to be a servant to God first before becoming a leader.Nehemiah had a vision in his heart and was convinced that he was the savior of God’s people, but he had to seek permission. This is a sign of humility. He knew that he could only realize the vision for God’s people through proper planning and preparation. He was not in a hurry to accomplish selfish interests. He was not after glory. He wanted to be a servant to God and knew that God would use him to deliver His people.
Nehemiah exhibits empathy and compassion in his life as a servant leader. He is not motivated by material wealth or political fame.Society is full of many people suffering today. Some of them are in poverty, while others are in a mire of political conflicts and civil wars. Unfortunately, political leaders have turned a blind eye to the suffering of their followers. The desire for power has made it impossible for leaders to show compassion and empathy to God’s people. Instead of praying and seeking God’s face, many leaders tend to spend their life forging political alliances and corrupt deals. Some people want to become leaders first before becoming servants. They fail to realize that one has to endure the period of serving before handling the leadership mantle.
Nehemiah’s life exhibits the spirit of a servant leader. Servant leaders have to serve first before becoming leaders.Even when one has God’s call and firm conviction that he has to lead others, one has to endure the period of serving. It is through serving that one learns the importance of humility and leading a prayerful life. Nehemiah had every opportunity to rebel and go direct to Jerusalem to mobilize the Jews for a revolution. He, however, decided to seek God’s face through prayer before seeking the king’s permission. He had compassion for his tribesmen but also understood the importance of respect for authority. He started by asking God’s approval before going for human approval.Contemporary leaders have a lot to learn from Nehemiah.One needs to be compassionate and have a sympathetic heart towards the suffering. However, the need to lead should not override the purpose of serve. Serving comes at a sacrifice. Sometimes one has to forego egoism by remaining humble to be used by God.
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Lynch, J. A. & Friedman, H. H. (2013). A servant leader, spiritual leader: The case for convergence. Journal of
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