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Solomon and Leadership By Paul Swamidass

Lead with Solomon-like Wisdom

Wise decisions by leaders could be a blessing as evidenced by the decisions of King Solomon. One of  his famous decisions as well as the process he used to arrive at that decision are offered in the Bible as an example of Solomon’s wisdom. That example has stood the test of time as a sound example of wisdom for thousands of years.

The bizarre episode that set the stage for Solomon’s famous, wise decision concerned two quarrelling mothers appearing before King Solomon for a resolution of their dispute; each claimed a single disputed baby as her own child. According to the Bible, this is how the episode reached a just and wise conclusion:

And so they [the women] argued before the king. The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’”

Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother” (1 King 3: 23-27; NIV).

Wisdom is Multi-faceted

In this episode, as a leader, Solomon was faced with a tough decision. If he made an error, a child would end up with the wrong mother, and the real mother would be deprived of her child for life, consequently, grieve as long as she lived, and hate the king. What can leaders learn from Solomon’s wise decision?

A dozen facets of this episode exemplify Solomon’s wisdom:

  1. Wisdom is, wanting to do the right thing
  2. Wisdom is, making the effort to find the truth
  3. Wisdom is, treating with fairness both parties to the quarrel before the conflict is resolved
  4. Wisdom is, diligently looking for truth hiding behind lies; liars can be as convincing as truth-tellers
  5. Wisdom is, knowing how people would react to an unexpected surprise
  6. Wisdom is, knowing how to surprise people to expose a lie
  7. Wisdom is, knowing a real mother would save her baby’s life, even if it means losing custody of her baby (the loving mother of Moses is evidence; Exodus 2: 1-10)
  8. Wisdom is, knowing greed, selfishness and raw envy may cause a person to take the life of another mother’s innocent baby
  9. Wisdom is, knowing a fake mother’s love for a baby cannot match a real mother’s love for her baby
  10. Wisdom is, not favoring one side or the other in a conflict before successfully finding the underlying truth
  11. Wisdom is, not using unsubstantiated shortcuts such as, “This mother looks more truthful to me, so, I will decide in her favor,” because looks can be deceptive
  12. Wisdom is, the ability to look beyond tears, as well as real or faked emotions of the parties to a conflict.

Wise Reminders

To make wise decisions, learn to incorporate appropriate facets of wisdom from the above list. For example, if Item 12 was the reason for one of your unwise decisions, ensure that you do not fall once again for real or fake emotions of parties to a conflict. If “unsubstantiated shortcut” (Item 11) was the reason for one of your unwise decisions, remind yourself, “looks can be deceptive,” and therefore seek substantiating evidence before making a decision.

Above all, wisdom is, wanting to do the right thing (Item 1). If this is not the driving force in a leader’s decisions, wisdom will depart from the leader. Just as King Solomon faced a difficult decision, Aaron too faced a difficult decision, when some men approached him, in the absence of Moses, asking for a golden calf to worship (Exodus 32: 1-6). If he wanted to do the right thing, Aaron could have refused the request. But it appears, Aaron did not even attempt to do the right thing, when he promptly enabled the making and worshipping of a golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai, when Moses was away.

Aaron’s unwise decision to enable the worship of a golden calf made God angry, and the consequences were severe: “And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32: 35; NIV). An unwise decision emerged, when Aaron did not attempt to do the right thing (Item 1).

Remember, King Solomon asked God,

“Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people,” and we know, he received it generously (2 Chr. 1:10-12; NIV).

“Blessed are those who find wisdom…” says the Bible (Prov. 3: 13; NIV).


Paul Swamidass, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus, Harbert College of Business, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA. He retired from Auburn University in 2016 after teaching there for 24 years. He was an industrial manager with an engineering degree before graduate education in business administration and a university career as a faculty member lasting 33 years.

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