If you are being honest, have you ever wondered if the ancient biblical narratives have anything to say about leadership in the 21st century? How are the old and new worlds even remotely similar?
I have wondered about these questions myself.
Over the years, though, as I read the Bible slowly and carefully, I have come to see that there is, perhaps surprisingly, a deep connection between yesterday and today.
For example, did you know that the carefully crafted narratives of the First and New Testaments contain rich descriptions of senior executive leadership?
Before we look at the Bible, let me first define what I mean by “senior executive leadership”.
Essentially, a senior executive leader is primarily responsible for the overall visionary, strategic, and/or operational leadership of an organization, department, or program area. More specifically, I see a senior executive leader as being primarily responsible for four areas:
- Self-leadership (health, integrity, emotional intelligence, professional growth, etc)
- Internal team (relationships, structure, capacity, priorities, etc)
- External relationships (partners, allies, competitors, threats, etc)
- Mission accomplishment (mission, vision, priorities, goals, outcomes, metrics, etc)
Senior executive leadership is not defined by the size of the team but by the areas of responsibility.
With that in mind, take a few minutes and slowly read Genesis 13:1-18.
Did you actually read it? If not, stop, go back, and read it before you continue. There are many layers to unpack, but in the context of Abram’s leadership, here are some observations.
After numerous life-altering moves from Mesopotamia, through Canaan, to Egypt, and then back to Canaan, Abram found himself as the leader of a large tribe with great wealth. The next closest in power was his nephew Lot, who was migrating with Abram.
Both tribes grew larger, and as the story unfolds, we read about their inevitable conflict. There were not enough resources to support both groups; quarrelling and tensions had increased beyond any easy solution.
Abram, the older and more experienced leader, took the initiative and named the obvious. Abram’s tribe and Lot’s tribe needed to separate and go different ways.
To facilitate this, Abram asked Lot to look at two options—the land to the left and the right—and choose the one he wanted. Lot chose the land that looked like it had the best resources, and Abram took the other.
So why would Abram, the patriarchal leader with enough social, political, and military power to do whatever he wanted, apparently give up control and let Lot have the first choice?
I wonder if there are two reasons, one that isn’t described in the text and one that is.
What the biblical narrative doesn’t say but seems to be a theme in Abram’s earlier years is that Abram was uncomfortable with conflict (but that is a discussion for another time).
The more obvious reason, though, is that Abram had a deep-seated belief that God would deliver on his promises. Note that that story begins and ends with references to an altar to the Lord. Abram called on the name of the Lord. The Lord spoke to Abram after Lot left and reaffirmed the promise.
Abram’s senior executive leadership was built on a relationship with God and believing he could be trusted with his word.
Side note: Contrary to what might be our first instincts, Genesis 13 is not a story about Abram. First and foremost, when reading any biblical narrative, we must remind ourselves that God is the hero of every story. No matter how well-known the other characters are, they are secondary.
For Abram, the strategy to give two options and let the other person choose was about mission accomplishment and his trust that God would be the hero. Abram believed that God would keep his promise and was willing to demonstrate that trust even when there was a significant risk.
That was not (and often is not) typical leadership.
Fast-forward to today. What is going on in your leadership context right now?
Perhaps quarrelling or conflict in your organization or department threatens its viability or even existence. Perhaps a rising leader is gaining momentum, and it feels like she is getting more followers or influence than you. Or perhaps your organization or ministry has grown to the point where there are not enough resources to sustain it, and people are looking to you to make a decision.
IF YOU HAVE A SENSE THAT GOD HAS LED YOU INTO WHAT
YOU ARE DOING NOW, HOW OFTEN DO YOU THINK ABOUT IT AND LET IT INFLUENCE
To make matters worse, have you accepted the narrative that since you are the senior executive leader, the fate of your organization falls entirely on your shoulders?
If so, that belief just might be suffocating you.
Let me suggest some questions to help you discover how the Genesis 13:1- 18 narrative still speaks to today’s leadership, and how a biblical lens might give you the insight you need.
Whether in the marketplace, non-profit, or ministry leadership, to what degree do you have a sense of calling or purpose from God? How comfortable are you with the language of “calling” or “God’s leading”? If you have a sense that God has led you into what you are doing now, how often do you think about it and let it influence your leadership?
In your estimation, is your organization, department, or ministry facing a current or impending crisis that threatens its sustainability or future? To what extent does a challenge like that invigorate or paralyze you?
With those questions in mind, here are two ideas to help you integrate them into your life and leadership.
Make time today to step away from your daily tasks for 10 minutes and reflect on any of God’s promises that come to mind. Acknowledge and thank him for his sovereignty and faithfulness, even in the midst of chaos. No matter how busy you and I think we are, opening our eyes and expressing gratitude can be transformative.
Ask God to give you wisdom and courage to make the difficult decisions you are facing today. And then trust him.
This week, reflect on the Genesis 13:1- 18 narrative, renew your sense of trust that God is actively involved in your context, and resist the pressure to believe that the success of your leadership falls entirely on you.