Leadership Strengths and Weaknesses in the Bible
The Bible is rich in the telling of accomplishments and failures of great leaders.
It offers models of leadership which benefits not only leaders in the church but also leaders in the secular world. With the changes in society, more now than ever before there is a need for leaders in this country and the church.
John C. Maxwell points out that organizations rise and fall based on the leadership which is provided (Maxwell, John, 1993). Elmer Towns points out that there are four temperaments that impact a person’s leadership style (Towns, Elmer, 2007). These styles are sanguine, choleric, melancholy, and phlegmatic. The impacts of these styles were evident in the leadership styles of the patriarchs Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph.
In understanding these temperaments and these men’s leadership traits, one may come to a fuller understanding of one’s own leadership style. Towns argues that each man possessed the same temperament (Towns, Elmer, 2007). Whereas some would argue that each man possessed elements of the other temperaments, a careful examination of the difference in their styles can be explained by their own individual strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Towns points out that each of these leaders had the choleric temperament. The choleric may be described as having a volcanic personality. A leader with this temperament is “hot, quick, active, practical, and strong-willed” (Towns, Elmer, 2007). These men were very independent. It seems from the biblical record that it was easy for these leaders to make decisions for himself and others. They were dynamos of activity and thrived upon activity. Each one of these men made clear stands on issues. They pushed forward even in the face of opposition. These men were quick witted. This enabled them to be able to recognize opportunities even in the midst of difficulties (Towns, Elmer, 2007). While these men had the same temperaments, what made these men different in their leadership styles were the Laws of Leadership they employed and their spiritual gifts. This can be shown with a deeper study of the leadership styles of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph.
Abraham the Entrepreneurial and His Leadership Strengths
The first person to be considered is Abraham. His story begins in Genesis 12and his life dominates the next 14 chapters of Genesis. Abraham took a great risk in leaving the land of Ur. His father, Terah, had travelled with his family to Haran and settled there. Abraham showed great courage in leading his family to leave the comfort of Ur to go to the Promised Land. By carrying out this action, he demonstrated the qualities of an entrepreneurial leader (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
Abraham led through vision and risk. In doing this, he exhibited the traits of entrepreneurial leadership. As it is written in Genesis 12:5:
And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. (KJV)
Abraham assumes the responsibility for the vision which God had given him of the Promised Land, organized his family and servants for the journey, and managed their affairs during their travels. In doing this, Abraham became the icon for the Judeo-Christian world. He became the father of many nations.
Maxwell points out that leadership is influence. Withoutinfluence, a person cannot be able to lead a group of people anywhere. Entrepreneurs exceed at seeing opportunities and going after thembut leaders are able to influence people so that they may lead (Maxwell, John, 1998/2007). In this factor of leadership, Abraham excelled. Not only was he able to influence his wife to leave the security of Ur for the Promised Land but his influence was so great that even his nephew Lot went with him. Towns points this as leading by the Law of Dreams (Towns, Elmer, 2007). In the Law of Dreams, the leader directs those who follow him to a desirable goal or object. If a leader is able to get his followers to buy into his dreams then they will buy into his leadership. Maxwell refers to this same principle as the Law of the Buy-in. Maxwell points out that the leader must find the vision first before he can find the people. People, on the other hand, find a leader and then the vision. He stresses that people first follow the leaders who are able to promote dreams in which the people can believe (Maxwell, John, 2007).
His entrepreneur skill can be seen as the Bible points out that he became wealthy while in Egypt. Whereas others would have seen an insurmountable problem with leaving their homeland and starting over in a foreign land, Abraham saw the problem as a challenge and found ways to deal with the challenges he faced (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
A major weakness for the entrepreneurial leader is that when they lack a clear vision of what the next step is to be, they tend to act out with a muddled vision of the next step which leads to difficulties not only for the leader but also his followers. This weakness was compounded by Abraham’s choleric temperament which gave him the tendency to act rather than wait upon God for direction (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
The first example of this weakness was when he went to Egypt to escape a famine which was in the land. Fearful of his safety due to the beauty of his wife, Abraham conceived a plan by which he would deceive the Pharaoh into thinking his wife was his sister. He did this rather then waiting on the Lord for a clear vision of the next step. Abraham repeats this pattern. Abraham used the same plan with King Abimelech. He presented his wife as his sister because he was fearful for his life. Once again, Abraham proceeded to the next step without clear direction from the Lord as to what he was to do.
The last example of this weakness in the leadership of Abraham to be considered is his dealings with God’s promise of an heir for him. God had given Abraham a clear promise that his seed would inherit the land. He had been promised an heiryet Abraham could not clearly see the next step because he was more focused on the limitations of producing an heir brought on by his wife’s advanced age. This inability to clearly see the next step plus his choleric temperament’s tendency to do things in his own strength rather than wait upon the Lord, Abraham proceeded with the plan brought to him by Sarah. This plan was for him to take her handmaiden, Hagar, and produce his heir. While this is a practical plan it was not the plan of God.
As for opportunities, Abraham had an eye for them. While in Egypt, he developed his economic base that he became wealthy. In his dealings with King Abimelech, he once again gained wealth. He even took the opportunity to create peace with Lot in Genesis 13 when there was discention among their camps.
As for threats, Abraham dealt with them quickly and in a well constructed nature. In the rescue of Lot, Abraham was true to his choleric temperament as he conceived a plan and acted quickly. Genesis 14:14-15 says:
And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.
As this passage demonstrates, Abraham’s leadership style was to deal with threats quickly and efficiently. Though he was a risk-taker, he took calculated risks. Foremost, he knew what the end results of his plan would be. In this case, it was the rescue of Lot.
Jacob the Pragmatic and His Leadership Strengths
The United States Army has a slogan that says, “Do something: lead, follow, or get out of the way.” In describing the pragmatic leader, Towns points to an old illustration of there being three types of people in the world. The first type are those make things happen. They are known as the shakers and movers. The second type are those who watch things happen. They are known as the spectators. The final group are those who are wondering what has happened. They are known as the dumbfounded. The pragmatic leader is the mover and shaker who gets things done leaving his followers watching what happened or wondering what happened (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
In the secular world, the pragmatic leaders are considered the troubleshooters. They are the ones who are called in to solve a problem and to do so quickly. They lean heavily on marketing techniques and research. In the ministry, these are the people who are called into a declining ministry or church for the purpose of rebuilding it. Ministerial leaders of this type are prone to use secular marketing devices in an effort to halt the decline (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
Jacob was a pragmatic leader. The leadership style he modeled depended on his situation. He was very flexible in his approaches to leadership and for this reason, he was successful in a wide variety of situations. Jacob served Laban which played to his strength as a pragmatic leader. The pragmatic leader is very gifted in leading through servanthood. As proof of this gift, one only has to note that Jacob served Laban for fourteen years to get Leah and Rachel for his wives (Towns, Elmer, 2007). In this, Jacob modeled the Law of Addition. As a leader, he literally added to his followers and wealth by serving Laban for fourteen years (Maxwell, John, 2007).
He used the Law of Motivation to get Laban to act. This is seen in Genesis 30 when Jacob is able to motivate Laban to work out a deal concerning the livestock. The Law of Accountability is seen here also as Jacob is careful to mark out the livestock with markings as his own and those without markings as belonging to Laban. This way, Laban could not accuse Jacob of stealing nor could he take any of Jacob’s livestock for his own. Finally, Jacob demonstrated the pragmatic leader’s tendency to use the Law of Problem Solving. Later in the chapter, to insure his livestock would increase in number and strength, Jacob came up with a creative solution to the problem. This solution ensured that Jacob in time would increase in wealth (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
The pragmatic leader is seen as having a choleric temperament. This temperament is manifest in Jacob’s leadership personality. Jacob showed the choleric temperament’s ability to seize opportunities (Towns, Elmer, 2007). Whenever he encountered opposition or a stumbling block, he would push on through to reach his goal. This is shown when he is tricked into marrying Leah. He quickly offered to stay an additional seven years with Laban so that he could gain the hand of his beloved Rachel in marriage. Jacob showed the choleric temperament’s tendency towards activity and quickness in his dealings with his uncle Laban. (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
Jacob did have his weaknesses. Throughout his life he relied upon his own skills, talents, strengths, and gifts until his encounter with the angel which resulted in his hip being put out of joint. After that event, he could no longer rely upon his physical strength to get him out of trouble. It is also after this event that he leaned more upon God rather than his wily tricks. Before this encounter, he would not rely upon God to preserve him even though God had made promises of protection and provision unto him. He was a hard one to be won to God because he thought he could do it on his own.
Jacob showed the problems a pragmatic leader can encounter. He felt constrained working for Laban and became restless to leave him. Jacob was so focused on gaining Rachel that he exhibited the pragmatic leader’s trait of failing to recognize the value of Leah as a mother and wife. Jacob fell into the trap of letting the ends justify his means. He did economic harm to Laban because his method of increasing his herd damaged the number and genetic quality of Laban’s livestock.
In dealing with threats, Jacob overcame the pragmatic leader’s trait of seeking unacceptable compromises and winning the battle only to lose the war. This maturity of his personality and leadership skills can best seen in his return to his homeland and his encounter with his brother Esau. First, Jacob showed his mastery of the Law of Problem Solving but first dividing his followers into two groups traveling separate paths so that if Esau attacked at least one group would escape. When Esau offered to lead Jacob to his next stop, Jacob diplomatically refused the offer and traveled in a different direction. Jacob in this case did not compromise with his brother which could have had serious repercussions. Jacob instead reached a healthy compromise in this situation and maintained his identity (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
Joseph the Decision-maker and Leadership Strengths
This is the type of leader who can be evaluated by the size of the challenges he seeks to overcome. He seeks to make good decisions which will have a beneficial effect and leave a positive legacy. Joseph developed as a leader under the most adverse situations and conditions. Trials and tribulations that would have crushed lesser men instead had the effect of tempering the steel of Joseph’s personality in the crucible of troubles which had the effect of purging him of the dross elements in his soul.
Joseph becomes a ruler of Egypt second only to the Pharaoh. His gift for administration had been recognized by Potiphar and the prison wardenand this gift served him well as he managed the kingdom of Egypt through seven years of severe famine. He used the Law of Problem Solving to overcome great challenges (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
The irony of Joseph’s life is that by being sold into slavery, his life was spared. He came from a very dysfunctional family with brothers who actually planned to kill him until they decided they could make a profit by selling him to merchants. He not only survived in an alien culturebut he thrived as his captors recognized his decision making skills. Despite his difficulties, he did not surrender his dreams because he knew they were from God and that in spite of his difficulties, God was still in control of the situation (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
The blessing of God was upon Joseph’s life. His success was the result of this blessing. Joseph had a vibrant and close relation to God. As Jesus Christ says in John 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (KJV) Joseph abided in Godand he was able to do great things for God. He lived by the Doctrine of Blessibility (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
The Doctrine of Blessibility is simply that God chooses to bless the faith and faithfulness in the life of the believer. God does this in spite of the inconsistencies in the believer’s life. Joseph led a life of separation. Even though he was immersed in a pagan society, he did not surrender to it as he sought the Lord’s face. To have a relationship of this intimacy with God, Joseph dealt with personal sin. The Bible is clear that the believer is to deal with personal sin through confession. First John 1:9 states, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (KJV) Joseph trusted in God in spite of his circumstances. As the Pharaoh’s right hand man in Egypt, Joseph insured that the poor were fed during the famine which honored God. Joseph pursued wisdom and waxed strong. As the incident with Potiphar’s wife proved, Joseph not only endured temptation but also fled it if it were too great. This doctrine stresses the importance of reading the Bible and applying the principles in the Bible to daily living. Even in the darkest moments of his life, Joseph never lost his servant’s heart (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
As a decision-making leader, Joseph had an awareness of the problems as he encountered new challenges in his life. He took time to define the parameters of the problem to keep himself from making hasty decisions. This involved detailed analysis of the problems he encountered so that he could choose the best solution for the situation. Once the decision was made and the solution selected, Joseph implemented the plan and made it work (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
Joseph the Strategic Leader
Joseph demonstrated his skill as a strategic leader since he approached problems with a systematic approach and was not haphazard in his solutions. Joseph is not only a biblical model for leaders to aspire but also teaches secular leaders of today how to prepare for the future by preparing for economic downturns during the economic upturns.
Joseph both made the plan for success and then executed that plan so that victory could be achieved. While other nations and people groups suffered during the famine, Joseph’s careful planning insured that Egypt would rise above the circumstances.
Joseph avoided the weaknesses of the strategic leader by making sure of the problem before proposing the solution. He maintained his dependence and trust of God rather than rely on the program. He was able to gather all the necessary information before making his proposal. He overcame obstacles to implementing his plan and ensured people that the goals were attainable.
Finally, as a strategic leader, Joseph foresaw the coming disaster but more than that, his leadership vision saw beyond the problem to the solution. He sold his plan to the Pharaoh and implemented it before the problem became too large to deal with it effectively. Being convinced by Joseph the validity of the plan, the Pharaoh wisely empowered Joseph to implement the plan. Joseph understood the future that was coming, he knew things never remain the same, and set goals to deal with the coming future.
The Bible is a rich resource for leaders. The models of leadership in the Bible are a great boon for leaders in the church and in the secular world. There is a need for leaders in this country and the church. Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph will provide a profitable study in providing valuable lessons for today’s leaders. In understanding these men’s leadership traits, one may come to a fuller understanding of one’s own leadership style strengths and weaknesses.
Maxwell, John C. (2007). The Twenty-one Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (2nd ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. (Original work published 1998) 6
Towns, Elmer L. (2007). Biblical Models for Leadership. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning. 6
Maxwell, John C. (1993). Developing the Leader Within You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. 6