#372 Nehemiah: Raise the Bar™

April 24, 2024 

Nehemiah had a clear vision to build the wall, but as a serving leader he was also concerned about the welfare of his people.  During the rebuilding project Nehemiah discovered that many of the people were suffering because of high interest rates charged by their fellow Jews. The wealthy were taking advantage of the poor—lending them money at rates that cost the poor their land and even their own children who were sold to pay debts. Their actions not only violated the law but contradicted the values that Nehemiah wanted to instill in the community. In the midst of the massive building project Nehemiah took action.  

6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say (Nehemiah 5:6-8, NIV).  

He understood that values violations from within the community represented a threat that was as significant as the external opposition he had already faced. Nehemiah recognized that weak values would not build a strong wall. As a serving leader he models the second action, Raise the Bar™ which focuses on identifying, clarifying and embedding core values into the hearts and minds of everyone in the organization.  

Serving Leaders Raise the Bar by defining the values.  

Nehemiah’s comments reveal at least several of the values that he wanted the community to embrace—compassion, integrity and justice. Nehemiah wanted to ensure that everyone understood what values were important and what they looked like in everyday actions. In this case, the values were not being expressed and he wanted the people to understand. In this he succeeded and the people “could find nothing to say.”    

Some leaders simply focus on getting the work done, pressing on to accomplish the vision. They do not understand that values exist whether or not they are articulated and defined. But serving leaders acknowledge that values need to be clearly articulated and understood by every team member. They communicate what the value looks like and what it does not look like. As they do so, they Raise the Bar™ for everyone.   

Serving Leaders Raise the Bar by demonstrating the values.  

Nehemiah says, “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles.” Nehemiah was living out the values he articulated to the group. He had compassion on those who were in bondage and had bought some back from slavery.  

Some leaders talk about values and expect others to live them out, but fail to uphold them. But serving leaders model the way, they demonstrate to others the values they expect them to uphold. This does not mean they are perfect, but even when they fail, they humbly acknowledge their failure and adjust their behavior. 

Serving Leaders Raise the Bar by dealing with values violations.  

“You are charging your own people interest!” Nehemiah was not afraid to address the values violation even in the midst of a very busy project.   

Some leaders ignore values violations, hoping that others won’t notice or that with time, the behaviors will improve. But serving leadership is not weak leadership! Serving leaders, like Nehemiah, Raise the Bar™ by addressing violations of values immediately and courageously. 

For further reflection and discussion: 

  • What three or four values are essential to carrying out my vision?  
  • How clearly does my team know these values? Do they understand what the values look like in everyday activities? Do they understand what behaviors are a violation of those values?  
  • Are there ways my actions in the past week have violated any of the values I just listed? How does this impact my leadership?  
  • What is my typical response when I observe values violations on my team? How does this impact my leadership? What do I need to do to strengthen my leadership in this area? Are there current conversations that I need to have to address values violations? When will I do this?  
  • Read the story of Nehemiah and reflect on other ways that he demonstrated this action, Raise the Bar™. (See especially the full context of chapter 5 and also his actions in chapter 10.) What do you observe from his life and in what way can you follow his example?     

Until next time, yours on the journey, 

Jon Byler 

In the next issue, we’ll examine how Nehemiah brought clarity about his mission.  

Finally, as a free gift to you, click here to download one tool to help you identify and define your core values. 

For more information about The Five Actions of Serving Leadership™ read the book, The Serving Leader, or visit www.CenterforServingLeadership.com.