12 Most Inspiring Leadership Lessons from Bible Characters
The Bible has been around for thousands of years. Historically, it has been the cause of much good as well as the scapegoat for much dissension. Some have loved the book and some have hated it. When examined outside of its religious and historical context, though, and merely as a work of literature, few can say that it is anything less than a masterpiece.
The depth of character within the people of the Biblical stories is astounding. They faced great challenges and overcame them with faith and endurance. For leaders in business today, there is much to learn from these ordinary people who made decisions that transformed them into extraordinary legends. Organizational leadership is in dire need of that level of conviction and determination. The characters of the Bible can teach us a great deal.
1. Noah: Leaders do what’s right even if they are alone
In Genesis 6, God is despairing over the wickedness that has overtaken humanity. Reluctantly, he decides to wipe out the human race and start from scratch. Noah, however, is the only one who has not been corrupted. You know the story. God tells him to build an ark that will save him, his family, and a whole host of animal life. As he is boarding the ark, God says to him, “for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.” Literally the whole world was doing what was wrong. But did that deter Noah from doing what was right? Not a chance!
2. Abraham: Leaders embrace the unknown
God approaches Abraham in Genesis 12 and tells him to “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” In other words, Abraham is instructed to leave his comfort zone and march onward into uncertainty. As business leaders, that’s a hot topic: managing risk and uncertainty. Great leaders embrace that uncertainty, because they know the truth: the promised land awaits them on the other side.
3. Joseph: Leaders endure in spite of circumstances
The story of Joseph beginning in Genesis 37 is powerful. The guy had a pretty tough life. He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. His father was told that he was killed by a wild animal. He was framed by his boss’s wife because he refused to sleep with her and was thrown into prison. He interpreted the dream of a prisoner who was released and restored to his position, but the guy forgot about him. In the end, though, Joseph became the leader of all Egypt–second only to the Pharaoh himself. When there is a famine, he is then able to save his family from starvation. He tells his brothers when he sees them again that, though they meant harm, God orchestrated the events to put Joseph in a position to save them. Leaders have a vision that sustains them through difficult times.
4. Moses: Leaders stick up for their people
Yes, it’s true. God has to be very convincing in order to get Moses to take action in Exodus 3. He at first gives excuse after excuse as to why he isn’t the right guy for the job. When he finally does answer his calling, though, Charlton Heston–err, I mean Moses, approaches Pharaoh and boldly passes on the iconic message: “Let my people go.” The Israelites, Moses’ native people, had been enslaved by Egypt and Moses was the one enlisted to lead them to freedom. When the time came, Moses was willing to step up and lead.
5. Joshua: Leaders rule by example rather than command
In Joshua 24, after leading his people into a new land, Joshua offers the Israelites the option to either A) serve the God who they had always served, the one who had brought them into the land or B) serve the gods of the surrounding lands. “But as for me and my house,” he says, “we will service the Lord.” The people answer in unison that they will pledge their allegiance to God. Because they believe in Joshua’s leadership, they follow Joshua’s example. He doesn’t have to threaten them; he merely inspires them by his example.
6. David: Leaders are not afraid of giants
Everybody knows this story. In 1 Samuel 17, the Israelites are being defeated by the Philistines and their 9-foot tall giant–Goliath. Goliath taunts the Israelites and challenges them to send him one man and, if that man should defeat him, the Philistines would become their servants. David, a small shepherd boy who will not even fit into the armor he is provided, volunteers. When Goliath mocks him, David says, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, whom you have taunted.” With that, he takes a stone, slings it at Goliaths forehead, and knocks the giant to the ground–dead. In other words, you can face any challenge as long as you have conviction and strength of resolve on your side.
7. Isaiah: Leaders rise to the occasion
In a vision Isaiah has in Isaiah 6, God asks who he should send as a prophet to His people. Isaiah responds, “Here am I. Send me!” Leaders don’t wait to see if anyone else is going to step up when something needs done. They take initiative. They are first to raise their hands. First to stand. First to speak up. First to make decisions. Leaders shun inaction and are always ready to take the plunge at a moment’s notice.
8. Daniel: Leaders maintain their resolve without regard for consequences
Many of us know the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. Daniel, in Daniel 6, is a highly esteemed government official whose colleagues become jealous. Seeking to get rid of him and knowing that he is a religious man, his colleagues convince the king to enact a decree saying that prayer can be made to no god except for the king. Once the decree is made, Daniel continues on praying and giving thanks to his God just like he always did. When he is caught, his colleagues tell their king and he is forced to throw Daniel into the den of lions. The next morning, the king finds Daniel alive. The lions had not harmed him. The point? Daniel’s faith in his God is what made him great in first place. Knowing this, he would not recant regardless of what happened to him. Great leaders follow this example and maintain steadfast in their convictions regardless of what happens.
9. John the Baptist: Leaders aren’t afraid to call out the phonies
John the Baptist, in Matthew 3, is baptizing people and preaching about the coming of Jesus. When a pretentious, self-righteous group of religious officials comes for baptism, he calls them out for what they are: “a brood of vipers.” Leaders aren’t afraid to call it like it is. Whether they are suppliers, employees, or even customers, leaders have what it takes to be brutally honest with the people they come in contact with.
10. Jesus: Leaders are servants
One of the most powerful images in the life of Jesus is when he washes his disciples’ feet in John 13. When he is finished, he says to them, “You call me teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Jesus, of course, isn’t talking about feet. He’s talking about servant-leadership. Great leaders focus on serving those who follow them. Great leaders wash their people’s feet.
11. Peter: Leaders recover from failure
Peter, the most well-known disciple of Jesus, denies even knowing Him three times while Jesus is being crucified. Jesus had predicted he would do it, though Peter insisted he would never deny Jesus–even to the death. When the rooster crows (what Jesus said would happen), Peter realizes what he had done and weeps bitterly. In Acts 2, we see Peter giving the first sermon after Jesus’s ascension into heaven–to a crowd of thousands of people when he had previously denied Jesus in front of just a few days earlier. Leaders don’t become discouraged when they fail. They don’t wallow in self-pity and give up due to the mishap. They pick themselves back up and continue on. Leaders do better next time.
12. Paul: Leaders are passionate for what they believe in
Paul, throughout his life recorded in Acts, is a very zealous individual. As a Pharisee, he violently opposes the spread of Christianity, going out of his way to see Christians killed and imprisoned. When Jesus appears to him in Acts 9 and changes his mind, he becomes equally adamant about the truth of Christianity. Paul travels across all of the known world, spreading the message about Jesus and establishing churches everywhere he went. Leaders are driven by a sense of purpose. Leaders have a fire lit under them and feel compelled to accomplish their objectives. There is no place for apathy in the life of a leader. Leaders always care…and care deeply.
Have you had the opportunity to implement any of these leadership practices? What leadership qualities do you see in the characters of the Bible? What about from other works of literature? We’d love to hear your feedback!
Featured image courtesy of NYC Wanderer licensed via Creative Commons.