Recently I was asked to describe my favourite leadership book. Thinking in the moment, this question should have been a very difficult question to answer. I have been influenced by great publications on the subject by both secular and Christian authors. There are many great resources available on the subject of leadership today, both in print and digital forms.
Even with this proliferation of leadership literature, my answer was decisively simple: My favourite book on leadership is none other than the biblical book of Nehemiah. At first glance this obscure Old Testament book may seem to deal with old realities and conflicts not found in the church or work place today. But if we dig deep it becomes clear that there is no more profound manual on leadership qualities, than this book. Nehemiah reveals traits and resources that are as necessary to have today, as they were during his time. Over this series of blog posts, I will explore a few of the essential leadership qualities displayed by Nehemiah.
Quality One: Unsheltered Compassion (Nehemiah 1:1-4)
These introductory verses provide background and reveal the kind of sheltered life Nehemiah lived. First, we notice that Nehemiah was sheltered from poverty. Unlike the Jews that lived in Jerusalem in extreme poverty, Nehemiah lived in the city of Susa. Susa was the capital of the conquered world, the capital of wealth and the centre of civilization.
Second, Nehemiah is sheltered from insignificance. Being a servant to the King, Nehemiah’s important position allows him access to the King on a daily basis.
Third, Nehemiah is sheltered from insecurities. Nehemiah served King Artaxerxes, nicknamed “The Long Arm” because his power and military dominance extended far and wide. Having this kind of sheltered life might have lead Nehemiah to discount the conditions of his fellow countryman. He could have justified the suffering of those in Jerusalem as the result of poor judgement and decisions: Why move back into a desolate land? Bad decisions lead to bad results.
That is the sheltered response one might have expected from Nehemiah. However, the response we get from this great leader is one of unsheltered compassion. He wept and prayed as if he were the one suffering. He approached God in a posture of insignificance an insecurity and he planned a course of action.
Unsheltered compassion coming from a sheltered life.
I think it is safe to say that living in the first world, leaders are privileged to live sheltered lives. Our career successes, combined with our material wealth and educational privileges may close us in and shelter us from suffering of others. A good leader will bypass the walls of his or her own reality and relate to the pains of others. We must not be blind to those living in desolate lands. The book of Nehemiah invites us to lead with unsheltered compassion. Let us take up this challenge with empathy and humility.