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Lessons in Leadership by Dr. Jerry White

Christian Leadership Alliance

By Dr. Jerry White~

Many lessons in leadership can be learned when we look at the life of Nehemiah.

There is a huge misunderstanding regarding excellence in a leader or a follower. It is not perfection. It is not a neat desk or persuasive charisma. It is not finishing every task with precision and success.

Nehemiah demonstrated leadership excellence as he stepped into a role he never sought or expected — returning to Jerusalem from Susa in Persia to rebuild the walls of that holy city.

Nehemiah was prepared for a difficult and seemingly impossible task. Rather than enjoying the perks and honor of being a cupbearer and confidant of the king of Persia, he kept in touch with his people and their plight as Jews. How did he demonstrate excellence:

  • He risked his life, asking Artaxerxes for permission to leave and for protection and materials. (Neh. 1:11–2:9)
  • ?He carefully thought through what was needed and painstakingly prepared for the task. (Neh. 2:7–8)
  • ?In Jerusalem he obtained the facts by direct observation. (Neh. 2:11–16)
  • ?He called for action to rebuild the wall … planning, organizing and delegating. (Neh. 2:17–3:32)
  • He endured opposition and yet kept building. (Neh. 4:1–23)
  • ?He set a tone of moral conduct and justice confronting sin among the Jews. (Neh. 5:1–13)
  • He finished the wall and re-established worship. (Neh. 6:15; chapters 8, 9, 12)

So, what was Nehemiah’s excellence in leadership?

It was in his attitude and concern, his preparation, his risk-taking action, his trusting people to do their work and his pursuing moral excellence in the midst of a rushed project.

Nehemiah did not sacrifice justice and moral excellence just to get the job done. He confronted sin and held other leaders accountable. A great purpose existed beyond the immediate task — bringing people back to justice, moral conduct and worship. A task is a means to serve greater goals.

So don’t obsess with a clean desk or a perfect plan. Be prepared spiritually and practically for whatever task God gives you among believers or among the secular world. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Col. 3:23)

Work hard. Lead with knowledge and preparation. Trust people and let them work.

Most of us are ordinary people with ordinary gifts and skills. Leadership excellence is taking that gifting and skills to guide people to accomplish great things.


Dr. Jerry White is international president emeritus and chairman emeritus of the U.S. board of directors of The Navigators . White, a retired U.S. Air Force major general, has had a 37-year active and reserve duty Air Force career. White serves on the CLA board of directors, and chairs the CLA advisory council. He also serves on the boards of the Air Force Association, World Vision, ?and ECFA.  This post is an excerpt from his article in the 2015 Fall edition of Outcomes magazine.

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