This is a guest post by my good friend Jenni Catron. I have gleaned from Jenni for several years, since the days when we served together in nearby churches. She’s a great leader and continues to challenge me. I’m excited about her new book, her newest book, The Four Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership: The Power of Leading from Your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. This will be a book you’ll want to add to your leadership library and toolbox. Thanks Jenni.
4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership
One of my favorite extraordinary leaders in the Bible is Nehemiah. In the Old Testament book named for him, Nehemiah led the Jewish people to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem that had lain in shambles for seventy years. While the Jewish people had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple after some fifty years of exile, they were never able to finish the wall around the temple. It was left in ruin because they faced opposition each time they attempted to complete it. No leader before Nehemiah had the clarity of vision and the influence to overcome obstacles to accomplish this monumental task. What’s striking about Nehemiah’s story is that he wasn’t personally affected by the wall. He didn’t live in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was in Judea serving as the cupbearer to the king of Persia. This was a high- profile position. He had earned a respected seat of influence, so the fact that he was concerned about the people in his homeland speaks volumes about his character. As you read through his story, you quickly see that Nehemiah understood the complexity of the leadership task before him. He recognized that there was a problem to solve and that no one else was stepping up to solve it. He identified the leadership vacuum that existed, and he felt called to help lead through it. As we look at Nehemiah’s actions, we see how he employed the dimensions of an extraordinary leader to lead himself and others through the complexity of the problem they faced.
He Identified the Problem After spending a few days in Jerusalem assessing the situation, Nehemiah told the other leaders, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (Nehemiah 2:17). The first task of the leader is to define reality, especially when a complex problem lies between where you are and where you desire to go. In Nehemiah’s case, it was a wall that lay in ruins, and those ruins symbolized a lack of hope, a lack of strength, and a lack of direction for God’s people. He was burdened. Nehemiah owned it. It was personal.
He Sought Out Support (Heart) Nehemiah knew he couldn’t do this alone. He needed others to help him accomplish the vision of restoring the wall. Nehemiah’s role as cupbearer to the king was no accident. He strategically used his place of influence to petition the king for permission to take a leave of absence from his job to lead the rebuilding effort. In addition, he asked the king to write letters to other government officials from whom he would need help. In each step of the process, Nehemiah cast vision and began recruiting help: first to the officials, then to the priests, and finally to the citizens of Jerusalem. He engaged and involved people at every level, and Scripture says that “the people worked with all their heart” (Nehemiah 4:6).
He Prayed over It (Soul) Nehemiah displayed spiritual leadership by praying for God to give him direction for how to proceed. According to Halley’s Bible Handbook, “He spent four months in prayer before he made his request to the king,”8 and Scripture cites numerous times when he paused to pray throughout the project. And these weren’t puny prayers. Nehemiah 1:4 tells us that Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven. When was the last time your heart hurt like that on behalf of someone else?
He Developed a Plan (Mind) Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah visited the remnants of the wall and outlined a plan for rebuilding. He took his plan to the city officials and received their blessing, thanks in large part to the letters from King Artaxerxes. With permission to build, Nehemiah recruited the workers. He provided clear direction and regular guidance, especially when they faced challenges. When opposition arose, he posted guards day and night. When the laborers grew fatigued because of the threats of attack, Nehemiah created rotations so that their responsibilities and the associated pressures would vary. Nehemiah’s attentiveness to the details of the process and the implications of the work for the people exemplified his awareness of managerial leadership.
He Saw the Possibility (Strength) Nehemiah developed a personal passion for this problem, and from that passion a vision of hope for the future was born. While he identified a problem, he also caught a vision for the possibilities. The fact that Nehemiah developed this vision on behalf of others is significant. He didn’t see the possibilities as a benefit for himself. He saw the possibilities for others. Amidst criticism, threats on his life, grumbling from those he was seeking to help, and the difficulties of the task, Nehemiah stayed the course and displayed unwavering commitment to the vision God gave him. His selfless leadership showcased the strength of an extraordinary leader.