In collaboration with a colleague (Dr. Ralph Hawkins, Old Testament Scholar), we just completed a book entitled, “Leadership Lessons: Avoiding the Pitfalls of King Saul.” The premise of the book is clear: It is good to learn from the mistakes of others, namely, the Old Testament King Saul. How do you learn from the mistakes of King Saul? Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:
In a gathering of several score of leaders, we discussed how leaders learn best. I posed a simple question, “do you learn more from your successes or your regrets?” To the person, they agreed that leaders learn more from regrets. However, learning from an experience of regret, our own or another’s, takes more than just going through the experience. We learn when we reflect both personally and professionally.
As you read the failure of King Saul, you will learn best by following these guidelines for personal and professional reflection:
- Identify with King Saul. You may find it tempting and even appropriate to be enraged by some of the behaviors of Saul. However, outrage does not often produce meaningful reflection. To reflect on failure, look below the surface of behavior. Ask, what was King Saul’s perspective? What were his emotions? What was his motivation? Identify with what he sees, what he feels, and what he wants. Ask why. You learn from regrets if you see them from the inside out.
- Love your enemies. This is a guarantee; you will see the behavior of other leaders, sacred and secular, in the behavior of King Saul. You will come upon your own mirror images of situations reflected in the life of King Saul. Your own emotions will surface, feelings of anger and pain. It is appropriate and needful to experience the emotions caused by such negative and cruel behavior. However, the easiest way to become like your enemy is to hate your enemy. The most challenging command uttered from the lips of Jesus Christ was, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44).
- Repent and rest. The characteristics of King Saul are not only found in the leaders around you, but are also found in you. I doubt you will throw a spear at a rival, destroy a city that hides your enemy, or seek the magic of a witch. However, uncontrolled emotions, twisted perspective, and selfish or fearful motives creep into the mind and soul of all leaders. In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15).
- Be accountable. Contrary to the vast myth of American leadership, leading is not a solo sport. Leadership is a team activity. Leaders need one another to serve as a guard against poor decisions and aide in maturing in competency and confidence. Read this book with another leader or a small group of like-minded individuals. At the end of each chapter is a discussion guide that will help you reflect together on your own challenges and discover ways to help one another move forward.
- Challenge yourself. The purpose of he Biblical writers in giving us the history of King Saul was not to lambast the king in order that we might feel better about ourselves. The purpose of this book is not that we might lambast the bad leaders around us or beat up ourselves for our own failings. We don’t need a book to teach us to deride others or ourselves; we are fully accomplished at these tasks. What we need is to reflect on a rich source of biblical material, often neglected, that guides us in learning to follow God as our King as we lead others in His name and character. At the end of each chapter is an opportunity for you to assess and analyze your own leadership and take action steps that work for you.
Colin Powell aptly shares the test of leadership failure: The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stop being their leader. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. The story of Saul’s failure is a story of soldiers losing confidence in their king and the king losing compassion for his soldiers. Let the story be your teacher and guide being a better leader.
Copyright © Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.
The book is available from Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Lessons-Avoiding-Pitfalls-King/dp/1401677282
Picture from the History Channel’s presentation of “The Bible.”