From the Pages of History

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Archive for the tag “David”

Leadership: Lessons from King David


​King David was one of the greatest leaders of the ancient days. Even today, he is remembered and respected as such. Garry Wills’ text, Certain Trumpets, categorizes him as a “Charismatic Leader.” But how was David so successful? There are some important
lessons we can learn from David’s life and leadership if we consider several things that made him effective.

​To get to power, David needed outside help. Israel was a Theocracy in David’s time. The God of Israel was awed and revered. That was why David was accepted so readily. God chose him; therefore he was the right man. When their authority comes from outside, leaders do not have to do much to build themselves up. But David actively cultivated a relationship with the Lord. “And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the LORD was with him” (1 Samuel 18:14). He was a “man after [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13:22). Relationships need to be built and developed. No one is an island. We all need help from time to time. Sometimes, superiors provide much needed help, as God did for David.

​Wills rightly declares in Certain Trumpets, “the leader most needs followers” (13). David did not lack those. He “was accepted in the sight of all the people” (1 Samuel 18:5). They were drawn to David. His bravery was astounding and his character winning. Leaders should understand and get to know their followers. King Saul, David’s predecessor, was not a leader who was well liked by the people. “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and [David] became a captain over them” (1 Samuel 22:2). These men felt they could trust David more than they could their own current sovereign, Saul. Building rapport and relationships is the best way to ensure satisfaction and loyalty.

​For a leader, dealing with personal mistakes rightly is critical. Though David was one through whom God worked mightily, he was human as well. One notable example of his fallibility is the incident with Bathsheba. She was the wife of one of David’s generals, but that didn’t stop David from taking her to be his wife, killing her husband in the process. For a time, the incident went undiscovered but, when confronted by the prophet Nathan, David was convicted. He immediately and sincerely repented. Other times, David acted out of selfishness but, when God spoke to him or sent someone to speak to him, David realized his wrong, did not make excuses, and took the consequences. Leaders aren’t perfect; sometimes they’ll fail. But when they do, they must always be ready to own up, apologize and make amends. It shows that they are not ones to just shift blame, but will take responsibility.

​This is not a comprehensive list, to be sure, but these are some of the most important qualities in a leader. Cultivating relationships with authority, winning followers, and dealing honorably with failure—these are things which David exemplified and which today’s leaders would do well to learn.

Leadership: Certain Trumpets


Garry Wills’ book on leadership, Certain Trumpets, provides stories of famous leaders through history. This post will deal with some of those leaders— what helped them succeed and, in some cases, what made them fail.

​President Franklin D. Roosevelt empathized with people during the Great Depression because he himself was a victim of polio. He learned to overcome that and he was able to effectively encourage Americans that they too would be able to pull through their troubles, and they did.

​The reason for Harriet Tubman’s success in saving slaves during the Civil War can be attributed to an injury that she suffered at the hands of a slave owner and which left her with brain damage. Says Willis, “She had already died once; she had nothing to lose” in her focused quests to bring slaves to freedom (41).

​Andrew Young was not the most well known civil rights leader. However, he possessed a calmness and advocated an openness that diffused potentially explosive situations. He was often able to find middle ground between whites and blacks, rich and poor, and America and the third world.

​Napoleon is considered one of the finest military leaders ever. His military leadership was superb, but when he took the kingship, it was clear that was not where his talents lay. Wills shows that he was a military man, first and foremost; he was not able to adapt to political leadership (97).

​At the time of King David, Israel was a Theocracy. David was ordained by God and therefore accepted and revered by his men. Dashing, heroic, smart, popular, “literally the favored of God” as Wills calls him, he gained quite a following (108). David’s rule was so glorious his son Solomon’s “bureaucratic skills” fell far short of his father’s legacy and Israel was split in two (111).

​Businessman Ross Perot understood the importance of good salesmanship. Certain Trumpets shows how he acted with purpose, “shrewdness and daring” (127). From actively training and encouraging good salespeople, to “piggybacking” on things he’d learned in order to make great what was mediocre, he was enthusiastic about what he did and that contributed to his success in sales (126).

​Pope John XXIII had to follow a set of traditions, but he was able to act for the best as he saw it. Though this angered some in the Catholic Church, it won the people over to him. Certain Trumpets tells us a popular title for him was “Good Pope John” (143).

George Washington shaped history by helping to bring forth the United States of America. He was highly influential and could have used his vast power for selfish ends, but his “virtue” and consideration of the nation before himself enabled the successful development of America into a nation for the good of all (155).

Socrates learned how to juggle thinking and theorizing, with interacting with people. He did not shy away and become a hermit, but actively pursued penetrating conversations, inviting others to join him in his quests for knowledge, and that was what allowed his ideas to become so popular in his time.

Carl Stotz founded Little League baseball. Though developing a junior version of the game, setting up and outfitting teams, and dealing with the bureaucracy that followed was not easy, he did it and mobilized parents and volunteers to help. Thanks to his dedication, many young boys have the chance to take part in the great American tradition that is baseball.

Creating and linking images of black equality to the “familiar,” “old ties and commitments” of American standards like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the flag, Martin Luther King, Jr. became a powerful inspiration for striving together in pursuit of “liberty and justice for all” (222).

Not all good leaders are good people, but even from ruthless and conniving Cesare Borgia lessons can be learned. He had bravado and daring, ready to engage Lady Luck, “cope with the unexpected” and “face the unforeseen” (242). But when all else failed, Borgia could fall back on the loyal followers he had carefully developed.

Dorothy Day was firmly grounded in her Catholic faith—it inspired her to an outpouring of help to the poor and needy. And because she wisely “rarely took a confrontational stance with the church,” she was free to challenge injustice in society (259).

So, through the examples of the leaders in Certain Trumpets, it’s clear that, depending on personal idiosyncrasies and motivations, styles of leadership do vary. Compassion, focus, adaptability, discernment—these are some of the many qualities great leaders must possess or develop, if they are to lead well. The common thread running through their life stories is the consideration of something outside themselves. Whether that something was devotion to religion or sensitivity to followers, the lesson to be learned is that selfishness gets one nowhere. The memorable leaders have a great motivator and a great vision, which makes them effective.

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