When it comes to leadership lessons in the Bible, few Old Testament figures get more press than Nehemiah. Nehemiah had his heart broken for his home country Israel and how Jerusalem and its wall had fallen into disrepair. Though he was in a position where it seemed impossible he could do anything about it—he lived hundreds of miles away and was in service to a foreign king—he sought God’s direction and leveraged his position of influence at his job to take on the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he dealt with workers who were less than courageous in the face of difficult circumstances and encountered opposition from other leaders who had much to lose should Nehemiah’s mission succeed. In the end, Nehemiah and his followers prevailed. Effective leadership carried the day.
Depending on which historian you read (or what kind of point the author of the leadership book you’re reading is trying to make), Nehemiah either 1) Left a cushy job where he was a major leader in Persia with all the perks that go with it in order to fulfill a God-given vision that only he was in position to accomplish, or 2) Nehemiah was an expendable part of Artaxerxes’ court (since his job was to die instead of the king should someone try to poison the king’s cup), and it’s incredible that such an expendable figure accomplished all he did. Both are great storylines, and both are inspiring. However, we don’t have to choose between the two, because both are part of Nehemiah’s story: Being a leader means making as big of an impact as you can while realizing that you’re not all that important at all.
Be a great leader…
If God has given you the ability and opportunity to lead, you should do so with all the passion you have (Romans 12:8). Like Nehemiah did, if God has given you a vision, don’t be afraid to risk to see it through. When it seems the job will take more resources than you have, ask for those resources boldly. And when the road gets tough, people lose their passion, and enemies surround you, don’t give up.
…but be expendable.
If you’re a talented leader whom people will follow readily, then there’s a good chance that you know how important your role is. And it is. But let me break something to you that the people around most likely will never tell you, especially if you’re a great leader: You’re not that important. Really. Had just one guard tried to kill the king by putting poison in his cup, Nehemiah would have been toast. He was expendable, though God protected him so that Nehemiah would eventually be able to do what God was preparing him to do. The same is true of you. No matter what you lead, how big your organization is, or how good you are, you’re expendable. Not important. And that’s okay. Because just as God was the author of Nehemiah’s story, he’s the author of yours as well. He’ll use you to do incredible things, but not because it’s about you, but because it’s about him. And understanding that is probably the most important task of a leader.