If I asked you, “Do leaders talk, or listen?” what would be your most likely response? We usually focus more on what leaders say than on how they listen. But the short story of Rehoboam’s early leadership, found in 2 Chronicles 10, has many insights for servant leaders on the art of listening. Rehoboam is an example of a leader who tried to listen but failed miserably. Let’s learn from him!
Rehoboam was Solomon’s son and took over the kingdom of Israel after his father’s death. Early in his reign, a group led by Jeroboam*, a former high ranking official under Solomon and a rival leader, came with representatives of ten tribes to ask what kind of leader Rehoboam would be. They said, “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you” (2 Chronicles 10:4).
What a leadership opportunity for Rehoboam! He asked for three days to think about it and consulted two groups of advisors, some young and some older. After three days Rehoboam met again with group. The king answered them harshly. Rejecting the advice of the elders, he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” So the king did not listen to the people…When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king: “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, Israel! Look after your own house, David!” So all the Israelites went home (2 Chronicles 10:13-16).
Because Rehoboam chose not to listen, the kingdom was divided! Servant leaders learn from Rehoboam that good leaders choose to listen.
Servant leaders learn that listening has more influence than position.
Rehoboam had the position of ultimate power. He thought that as the king he could say whatever he wanted done, and people would follow. He learned the hard way that the willingness of followers to serve is not unlimited. They turned away from him in rebellion. Leaders who refuse to listen will eventually lose their position! It may not always happen as quickly and dramatically as it did with Rehoboam, but servant leaders learn to listen well!
Servant leaders learn that listening takes time.
Rehoboam took three days to decide what to do. When he heard the request from the people he wisely asked for time, asked for counsel, and heard from people on opposing sides. In this, he did well and demonstrates that listening takes time. It would have taken less time for Rehoboam to give his reply immediately as many leaders do! It is much easier for leaders to jump into action before stopping to listen. Servant leaders choose to take the necessary time to listen well.
Servant leaders learn that listening takes effort.
We can’t know all that happened in those three days, but Rehoboam tried hard to make a good decision. He listened to different opinions. Some advised him to treat the people gently and others harshly. He must have pondered what to do as he ate in the evening and while he went to sleep. Listening took effort on his part. In the end, he took the easy path that appealed to his own flesh and required less from him. Even though he listened to the wrong group, servant leaders learn from Rehoboam that listening well takes effort.
All leaders have a choice; they can listen or try to lead without listening. Servant leaders choose to listen.
Until next time, yours on the journey,
For further reflection and discussion:
- As a follower, what experiences have I had with leaders who listened well or who did not listen well? How did their listening, or lack of listening, impact my willingness to follow them? What does that teach me now as a leader?
- Do the people who follow me believe that I listen to them? If I am not sure, do I have the courage to ask them for an honest response? How does that impact my leadership?
- What current leadership challenge is giving me an opportunity to listen well? Have I taken the time needed to listen to all sides? Have I made the effort to listen well? What more should I do after learning from Rehoboam?
*Jeroboam had been a leader in Solomon’s court, in charge of the whole labor force. A prophet told him that he would be king over ten tribes, so he rebelled. Solomon tried to kill him, and he fled to Egypt. (Read the story in 1 Kings 11:26-40.) He returns after the death of Solomon and speaks with Rehoboam in the story we are considering.