Recently, I was reading about Israel’s first king, Saul, and a decision he made that cost him the throne. Whether you’ve read this Biblical story or not, the lesson it contains has deep implications for us as leaders.
There was a nation called Amalek that God wanted to settle accounts with.When Israel first came out of Egypt, Amalek had been cruel to them (1 Samuel 15). God told King Saul to destroy everything – people, animals, gold, clothing etc. All of it.
And Saul did. Well, he nearly did.
His army only destroyed the things that were of poor quality or worthless. But, they kept the valuable things for themselves; and Saul kept their king, Agag, alive.
That night, God came to Samuel the prophet and told him He was sorry He had ever made Saul king, for Saul “was not loyal and refused to obey his commands”.
Saul had lost favor with God and would lose his kingship.
But here’s where the story gets interesting. King Saul had no idea.
In fact, the story goes that the next day Saul travelled to Mt. Carmel to set up a monument to himself. I haven’t set up any monuments to myself, but I’m pretty sure you only do that when you feel you’ve done pretty well for yourself.
Later, when Samuel arrives to tell Saul the bad news, Saul greets him cheerfully. And then Samuel lets him have it.
“Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do exactly what the Lord said not to do?” (I feel like I’ve had this conversation with my kids)
Saul denies what’s being said about his disobedience, and makes up an excuse that he only took those things so he could sacrifice them to God. (Yeah, sure you did, Saul.) Finally, he admits the truth.
“Yes, I’ve sinned. I disobeyed the Lord’s commands because I was afraid of the people (aka afraid of his army) and I did what they demanded.”
Bingo. There it is.
Saul had an issue. Two issues, in fact. Do you see them?
- He was overconfident in his own abilities and situation.
Overconfidence as a leader can blind us from reality. We think our intelligence, risk-taking, ideas, or organizational strategies is what led to great results. In my experience, we can only take credit for a fraction of the results we get. The economy, good timing, pandemics, unexpected PR lifts, or consumer behavior changes are out of our control, yet they play a major factor in our success and failure.
We must continue to work hard and plan the best we can, but true outcomes are out of our control. Knowing this should provide us with enough humility to always be hungry, learning, open to input and, as in Saul’s case – to listen and stay faithful to the tasks we have been given.
It’s a posture of service that wins the day.
- He allowed the approval of others to dictate what they should be doing, instead of leading them.
People-pleasing was the other issue for Saul.
Now, why would a king be afraid to tell his own troops what to do? Why would he be afraid to keep them accountable?
Saul was afraid of loss. What if the troops had revolted and turned on him?
What if this employee gets mad that I’m providing negative feedback and they quit? What happens if I tell my client something they don’t want to hear and they leave us? What if the leadership team or board is telling me to move in a certain direction and I don’t think it’s the right course, what do I do then?
Every leader faces the fear of loss. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career over this issue because I didn’t have the confidence in my position or experience to handle it well. But what I’ve learned is that the short-term pain of dealing with someone else’s response to your leadership outweighs the long-term gain of doing the right thing.
Yes – it sucks in the short term. There are some awkward and difficult conversations that take place. But how you have those conversations, and how you listen and love the people through it are critical. You can’t roll over or avoid it.
As a leader, you must have conviction of vision and clear direction to lead well. Saul didn’t have this. As the first king of Israel, he loved the positive attention. He was a rock star. He even created a monument to himself for goodness’ sake. But he didn’t earn this position – it was given to him.
He didn’t have the experience or education on how to be a king. All he did was show up and God gave the crown to him. And ultimately, God took it away. Saul was afraid of loss, and yet it was the decisions he made out of fear that led to the very thing he was afraid of.
Even when Samuel came in and corrected the errors of Saul, the army didn’t revolt. Saul’s fear was not real. And when I reflect on where my mistakes have been made, my fears weren’t real either.
As leaders, we need the humility to listen, but the courage to hold people accountable and tell the truth. If we’re learning, growing, and becoming better in our crafts, our experiences will build towards the credibility and confidence that is earned. And if we constantly listen to God’s voice and stay obedient to follow him – outcomes will happen, and the fear of loss will subside.
That’s when good leadership can flourish.
Impact Challenge this week:
Professional: Are there accountability issues you’ve been avoiding? Are there hard conversations that you need to have?
Personal: Think about Saul’s character issues. Can you relate? What are some character issues you have that could be affecting your leadership?
Spiritual: Read 1 Samuel, Chapter 15 where this story is from. What stood out for you? What would you have done if you were Saul or if you were Samuel? Are there areas in your life where you’re not being as obedient as you should be?
I hope this was helpful for you today. Keep having impact!