#374 Nehemiah: Build on Strength™

May 22, 2024 

The vision of Nehemiah to rebuild the wall required a variety of strengths to accomplish. Nehemiah recognized that he did not have all the strengths needed to accomplish the task—he needed a team. He was a great leader but Nehemiah was not capable of doing all that was needed for the building of the wall and community. This included casting vision, strategic thinking, administration, craftsmanship, technical skills, teaching, etc. Serving leaders recognize that there’s no such thing as a well-rounded leader, but there are well-rounded teams. Nehemiah models how serving leaders build teams based on strengths.   

Serving Leaders Build on Strength by acknowledging different roles    

The physical rebuilding needed people who could carry stones, those who were capable of doing masonry work, others skilled in timber and iron construction for the doors, etc. Beyond the construction of the wall, the story of his leadership also demonstrates a wide variety of tasks and roles including goldsmiths and merchants (3:31), guards (4:16), those who blew the trumpet (4:18), messengers (6:3), musicians (7:1, 12:27), keepers of the storerooms, gatekeepers (7:1; 11:21), leaders in charge of different areas (7:2, 70; 11:1, 11;  12:7-8; 15:16), teachers (8:4-8), temple servants (11:21), and priests and Levites (12:1-7). Nehemiah acknowledged all these roles as necessary for achieving the vision. The people doing menial tasks were as essential to the work as the person blowing the trumpet.  

Some leaders see their leadership role as critical but don’t appreciate the person who answers the phone or the one who cleans the floor. But serving leaders recognize that all tasks, even the menial ones, are vital to accomplishing the vision.  They verbally appreciate the role of each member of the team and acknowledge that the different strengths are all necessary.    

Serving Leaders Build on Strength by aligning work with passion  

In the building of the wall there were certainly times when people worked in areas outside of their strength. The job needed to be done! But Nehemiah also deliberately assigned tasks that would align with passion.  One example, “Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house” (Nehemiah 3:28, NIV). 

Nehemiah strategically placed people to build the wall that was close to their own homes. He knew that they would be more energized to do the work that was near to their heart! He was aligning their work with their passion. Some leaders assign tasks with little thought to whether the person will enjoy doing the work. But serving leaders look not only at ability for a task but passion. They recognize that someone may be very capable of performing a role, but not energized by doing it. Serving leaders look for ability combined with passion.  

Serving Leaders Build on Strength by applauding joint success  

Nehemiah worked hard and the wall was finally completed. Then they celebrated!  

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres (Nehemiah 12:27). The celebration included two choirs marching around the wall in different directions with sounds that were heard “far away”! Nehemiah applauded the work that the entire community had accomplished.  

Some leaders focus on the work, but never pause to celebrate. Or they focus on an individual accomplishment without acknowledging the work of the team. But serving leaders applaud success and find ways to celebrate the accomplishments of individuals and the team.  

For further reflection and discussion:  

  • How well do I know my own strengths and passions? Am I working to focus more of my time and energy on the things I do especially well?  
  • Do I see the tasks of each person, especially the menial ones, as vital to the success of our team? What have I done this week to affirm the value that each one brings to our team? 
  • When I see someone on my team doing a task well, do I assume that they have passion for that work, or do I inquire about their passion? Ask one or two of them, “If you do this all day long, do you go home energized or drained?” What do I learn from their response? How can I better align my team around passions? 
  • How well does our team celebrate success? What have we done recently that should be celebrated? What do I need to do to ensure that we have the celebration?   
  • Read the story of Nehemiah and reflect on other ways that he demonstrated this action, Build on Strength. Especially reflect on the story of their celebration in chapter 12. 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’s leadership empowered others and prepared for succession.  

Finally, as a free gift to you, Click Here to download one tool to help you put this action into practice in your organization.  

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

#373 Nehemiah: Blaze the Trail™ 

May 8, 2024 

Nehemiah served the people of Jerusalem by clarifying the vision and calling the people to live by their values. He also demonstrated the third action of serving leaders, Blaze the Trail,  by keeping everyone focused on the mission. Serving leaders clarify for their team what activities bring the success that will accomplish the mission. They ensure that these activities are consistently practiced, and they work to remove any obstacles that would hinder progress toward the mission. One obstacle for Nehemiah was the enemies who wanted to stop the work and distract the workers.    

1When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates—2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer (Nehemiah 6:1-4, NIV).  

Nehemiah’s response models how serving leaders Blaze the Trail for those they lead.  

Serving Leaders Blaze the Trail by mentioning what matters  

Nehemiah responded to the message by stating “I am carrying on a great project.” He wanted it to be clear to those on the wall and those far away that what was critical was not meetings but putting stones on top of one another!  It was hard, sweaty work but Nehemiah understood exactly what would bring success, consistent focus on laying one stone on top of another! This was all that mattered for the mission to be accomplished. And he gave meaning and purpose to the task by calling it a “great project.”  

Some leaders are not crystal clear on what activities will bring success to their organization. Others understand but have not communicated them clearly to everyone on their team. But serving leaders clarify what brings success and make sure that everyone understands.  Serving leaders mention what matters.  

Serving Leaders Blaze the Trail by minimizing distractions  

The invitation for a meeting came under the guise of finding a peaceful resolution to the nagging opposition. Nehemiah recognized that going to a meeting in a nearby village would be a distraction that would take him away from the work for several days. The distraction may have been an attempt to take his life, or to attack the workers while he was not present. In any case, Nehemiah refused to be distracted. “I…cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”  

Some leaders allow themselves and those around them to focus on things that are not actually important to the mission of the organization. But serving leaders work hard to ensure that everything they are doing is mission critical and that those working with them are doing the same. They remove obstacles and minimize distractions.  

Serving Leaders Blaze the Trail by maintaining consistency     

Nehemiah’s challenge was repeated four times and “each time I gave them the same answer.” He remained consistent and kept his focus on putting one stone on top of the next.  

Some leaders hold true to their mission for a time, but when there are repeated distractions, they lose their focus. But serving leaders keep themselves and everyone else focused on what really matters to the organization. They don’t stifle innovation, but they insist on doing the right things again and again. They serve with consistency.   

For further reflection and discussion: 

  • How clearly do I understand our mission? Do I know what activities bring success to us and what activities are a waste of time? How well do those serving with me understand our success factors? (Use the free tool below to help you with this process.)  
  • What things am I tempted to do often that are not essential to our mission? What do I need to do to eliminate them? For those on my team, what distractions do they face and what can I do to remove them?  
  • How consistently do I focus on activities that bring success to our organization? How does this impact my leadership?  
  • Read the story of Nehemiah and reflect on other ways that he demonstrated this action, Blaze the Trail™. (Focus especially on chapters 4 and 6). 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 look at ways that Nehemiah built teams by focusing on strengths.   

Finally, as a free gift to you, click here to download one tool to help you put this action into practice in your organization.  

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