One of the greatest leadership stories I have ever read took place in 445 BC.
The Babylonian empire had defeated the Jewish nation and destroyed much of Jerusalem. Many of the Jews were eventually taken into exile and would later wind up as part of the Persian empire.
Nehemiah was one of these Jews who was exiled. He was very fortunate though, in that he would be working as part of the King’s servant staff group in a somewhat comfortable role compared to many of his fellow Jews.
Having been told by fellow Jews that the remnant of Jews that remained in Jerusalem were living in terrible conditions because they had no wall to protect the city (destroyed in the Babylonian siege) and were at the mercy of those nations and people groups living in the surrounding areas, Nehemiah was driven to take action.
1. He went to the King and asked permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. He was willing to leave a comfortable situation for something uncomfortable that would have an impact.
2. He received permission, went to Jerusalem, inspected the city, and prioritized rebuilding the wall. Without the wall, there was no protection from outside threats and nothing done inside the city would be safe. He assessed, developed a vision, narrowed the focus, and put a plan together.
3. He then sold his vision to the people and convinced them of the need to rebuild the wall. Nehemiah had them work on the wall adjacent to the area of the city they lived in. He got buy in by having them work in areas that meant something to them personally (taking care of their families).
4. As the wall started to be rebuilt and repaired, outside enemies started to threaten the work. Nehemiah adjusted the work assignments to ensure everyone was armed and that half of those working would focus on the wall with the other half standing guard against a possible attack. He adjusted his plans as the circumstances changed to ensure they were able to continue on with their mission and address the obstacles from the outside.
5. With the outside threat being neutralized, the work continued but there arose economic internal issues within the group. Nehemiah quickly dealt with financial condition of many of the poorer families and established a system that allowed for everyone to work, to own property, and not be dependent on others for their provision/condition of servitude. He addressed internal issues directly and ensured everyone was cared for and given an opportunity to contribute while staying focused on their primary goal.
6. As the wall neared completion, outside threats took another approach and tried to distract him from the primary focus of the wall. Nehemiah replied with my favorite statement of the entire book – “ I am doing a great work and cannot come down”. He was totally focused on his mission and would not compromise that commitment or focus!
7. With the wall finished, Nehemiah planned a celebration to recognize the efforts of the people and share with them the vision of their next focus area. He took time to recognize the effort and share the continued vision for success in the future.
Now, take a look at the last sentence in each section of each of those seven comments above. Each one of us reading this message can apply those steps in some manner to what we do.
1. How do we need to leave the comfortable for the uncomfortable to make a difference? When we are willing to get out of our comfort zone, we may discover that we can have more impact/influence than we ever thought possible.
2. Have we effectively developed and communicated our plan for success with those following our leadership? It doesn’t matter how much you know or how skilled you are if you aren’t impacting others as a leader.
3. How effective have we been at getting buy in from our followers? Effective leaders get people to see why it matters and why they need to be a part of the plan.
4. How effective are we at adjusting our tactical plans as obstacles arise while still staying focused on our primary purpose? Effective leaders fully utilize resources, address issues, and stay focused.
5. Are we listening to our followers and being sensitive to issues that may limit our effectiveness? Don’t underestimate the importance of your follower’s concerns. Actively listen and address internal issues.
6. Do you view your work as “A great work”? Think of the significance of your role with the people you lead and “and stay on that wall”.
7. How are you sharing in the successes and continuing to communicate with your followers? You can’t have leadership without communication.
I have now taught over 20 Balmert Safety Leadership classes over the last 3+ years. I end each of those classes with a challenge. That challenge is to make a difference in the life of someone else each day. As I recall Nehemiah’s response to those trying to divert is attention: “I am doing a great work and cannot come down”, I am reminded of that challenge. You are doing a great work. Make a difference every day.