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.