The Source of King David’s Mojo

David, King of ancient Israel, was one of the most inspirational leaders to walk the earth. People rallied to him, sang his praise and joined his cause. He had what leaders want. How did he get it?

Take a look at David’s dynamism. He lopped off Goliath’s head and won the hearts of the people. He moulded a band of brigands and drifters into a private army of mighty men, any one of whom would readily have died for him. Some 600 fugitives gravitated to him in the desert and he figured out how to care for them all. He consolidated the tribes and established a nation. He once danced so passionately in a public festival that his spirit of praise infected the whole assembly and everyone joined the worship. Following a civil war, in which his own son betrayed him, he reconstructed the nation and renewed its future hope. And he achieved so profound a place in Israel’s memory that the rest of the bible and Jewish history never forget him.

David made lots of mistakes. Enormous, repugnant mistakes that would completely undo many contemporary leaders. But he rebounded with courage and humility. He had extraordinary leadership mojo. He did three things worth understanding and imitating.

David leaned into his calling boldly. True leadership capacity comes from vocational alignment. Trying to fake it is draining and demoralising. This is the key difference between King Saul and King David. Saul was a photoshopped model for a Fortune 500 CEO. He was better looking and taller than everyone else. But he was no leader. He was insecure and aggressive. He was vocationally misaligned. In time everyone could see it and many paid a high price because of it.

King David on the other hand was the youngest son of Jesse and was nearly overlooked by Samuel who came to anoint Saul’s successor. David was handsome enough but he didn’t have “the look”. What he did have was “the call”.

David never strained to be a famous king. He didn’t push for the job, it came to him. That’s not to say he lacked ambition or drive. He strategised to have a long and fruitful kingship. But he didn’t have to sell his soul to stay in charge. In old age he is still surprised and grateful that God elevated him to leadership. This is the spirit that makes a leader great.

Vocational calling is a snug fit. The daily work is not easy or comfortable, but there is a rightness to it. This alignment is the fruit of taking each step obediently, maximising the opportunities, accepting risks and evaluating at every turn. It requires great faith when we are young and great courage as we age. Find your fit and embrace your call, push-in doing all that is required and more, and very soon you will inspire the people you lead. If you find it necessary to bully, connive, threaten and force others, something is wrong. Get another job and be happy. Leadership is very hard, but when it answers to a vocational calling it rises over time and the people you serve flourish with you.

David leaned into his faith passionately. He nurtured an intimate God-life which propelled his leadership effectiveness. It didn’t make him perfect, but it gave him resources to keep going through hardship and to recover after failure.

How many leaders do you know who have published their prayer journals? David wrote, sang, complied and presented his public and personal prayers. The Psalms are the continuing record. David’s bond with God was raw, real and reliable. It was a crucial element of his leadership construct.

He loved his bible, which was the first five books of our bible today. He read, studied, memorised, meditated and lived by the words of God. He listened for God’s living word to him. He wrote a literary masterpiece in praise of God’s word. It is a beautiful acrostic poem (Ps 119) written to thank God for speaking. How many mega-leaders do you know whose NY Times bestseller is a poem in celebration of God’s word?

David was deeply spiritual. His vitality as a leader emanated from a divine connection. This made him wise, bold, repentant, generous and humble. He was known as a man after God’s own heart!

David let others lean into his leadership space and meddle. The default mode for many leaders is self-sufficiency. We may not say it out loud, but others can hear when we are thinking: “No thanks, I don’t need your help or advice.” If you want to be inspirational, let good people intrude on your leadership privacy. David did.

Every leader needs a Nathan or two! He was a bold advisor (a prophet) who held up a mirror to the disgusting mess in the king’s personal life. David’s choice to have sex with the wife of his faithful military aide, have the aide killed because David got her pregnant, and then try to cover everything up, was a selfish and morally bankrupt abuse. Leadership character has an unexpected impact on the bottom-line of every enterprise. Who is in your leadership space with power to get in your face? Who will be a Nathan for you?

May God bless you with many an Abigal. She was the wife of a greedy fool who made David so angry he mobilised his troops to march against him. Abigal, who had little time for her husband’s folly, saw immediately that David’s ramped-up wrath would serve him very poorly. So she packed some bread, poured some wine and met him in the ravine with some advice. “Don’t do this thing! You’ll regret it.” What is significant, is that David was able to listen. He let this wise woman lean into his leadership space. She saved him from a costly blunder.

Joab, commander of Israel’s army, confronted David at yet another critical moment. David simply lost the plot when the pressures of leadership, the pain of family dysfunction and the weight of personal loss overwhelmed him. He was sulking in his tent while the nation was unravelling. Joab blasted him. “You are humiliating your men. You hate those who love you and love those who hate you. You don’t care. Now get out there and encourage your men! If you don’t it will be worse than all the calamities from your youth till now.” Tough words. Good call. It saved the day. When David stepped up, despite his pain, the people rallied. He couldn’t have done it without Joab.

Truly inspiring leaders are never self-contained. We all need prodding, correcting and encouraging. Let good people lean into your leadership space.

The secret of David’s leadership capacity is all three of these insights working in harmony. He is pursuing a call, leaning into God and letting wise people confront him. He gets it wrong as often as anyone, but when he gets it right his leadership just seems to go higher and higher.

What David has, you can have. Lean in!

Posted by Allan Demond

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