#375 Nehemiah: Upend the Pyramid™

June 5, 2024 

The final action of the Serving Leader Model® is Upend the Pyramid. At the heart of serving leadership is a radically different approach that does not focus on self and personal gain. Serving leaders instead focus on serving the mission of the organization, the people who are a part of the organization, and those served by the organization. Serving leadership turns the traditional model of leadership upside down—they Upend the Pyramid.  

Nehemiah demonstrated serving leadership as he built the wall in Jerusalem and strengthened the city.  He refused to take some of the perks of his role in order to relieve the people of a tax burden (see Nehemiah 5:14-19). Also, consider these glimpses of how his leadership upended the pyramid.  

1After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the Levites were appointed. 2 I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do (Nehemiah 7:1-2, NIV).  

The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people— (Nehemiah 12:38, NIV). 

6 But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission 7and came back to Jerusalem….(Nehemiah 13:6-7a).   

Serving Leaders Upend the Pyramid by delegating authority  

Nehemiah “put in charge…” two men to lead the city and appointed gatekeepers, musicians and Levites. Nehemiah was clearly delegating authority and power to others rather than keeping control of everything himself. Some leaders are reluctant to release power to others but serving leaders focus on releasing rather than keeping power. They delegate carefully and clearly. They recognize that they are in charge to charge others up!   

Serving Leaders Upend the Pyramid by developing people  

As the choir celebrated the great achievement of building the wall, Nehemiah “followed them.” Nehemiah was in the rear by design. He had called for the celebration and delegated authority to musicians and Levites. Now he watched others lead the way and cheered them on from behind. His heart was to see others develop and rise in their own leadership capacity. This development of others extended far beyond helping them learn how to put stones on the wall, he wanted to see them mature as people and as leaders.  

Most leaders assume that they must lead from the front and be the most visible person on the team. They naturally call attention to themselves. But serving leaders are content to cheer from behind, smiling with contentment as they help others grow and develop.  

Serving Leaders Upend the Pyramid by disappearing by design  

“I was not in Jerusalem.” After the wall was built Nehemiah went back to Babylon for some time. Certainly, there were official duties that he needed to fulfill. But Nehemiah was also making space for others to rise up and lead. He was, by design, preparing others to take over his leadership role. Some leaders cannot imagine a time that they will not be in charge and they don’t prepare others for the day they will be gone. But serving leaders understand from the beginning that their own leadership role will one day end. They serve the organization by ensuring that others are prepared to take over at that time. A part of that preparation is intentionally stepping away at times to let others grow and develop. 

For further reflection and discussion: 

  • In what ways am I tempted to do things myself rather than delegate? In what ways have I delegated authority recently? Are there ways that I delegate responsibilities and then don’t give others the power to carry it out? Do I keep an appropriate level of accountability with those I empower?  
  • Who on my team could be developed to a higher level of responsibility? What steps will I take to deliberately develop them?  
  • What am I doing to prepare my team for success after I am no longer the leader? Would it be helpful for them if I disappeared for a time? What do I need to do to better prepare for succession?  
  • Read the story of Nehemiah and reflect on other ways that he demonstrated this action, Upend the Pyramid. What do you observe from his life and in what way can you follow his example?     

Nehemiah was not a perfect leader, but he served well and demonstrated all Five Actions of Serving Leadership™.       

Until next time, yours on the journey, 

Jon Byler 

In the next issue, we’ll begin a new series!  

Finally, as a 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.

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