Legitimate Leadership Lessons from the Bible

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Legitimate Leadership Lessons from the BibleLegitimate Leadership.  What is It?

In his study of King David, Chuck Swindoll points out that God scans the world seeking legitimate leadership skills.

The story of King David is an example of this.

Thankfully, God is not looking for perfect people since there is no one who is perfect on this earth.

Rather, God is seeking ordinary people to carry out an extraordinary task. He is looking for people with certain qualities.

God is seeking leaders who have the qualities of

  • spirituality
  • devoted hearts
  • and humility

An Old Testament example of this is when God seeks out a young country boy to lead his people.

God Raised David Up To Show Legitimate Leadership to His People

David came to the throne when he was thirty years old. His reign lasted for forty years. As David is studied, it is obvious that he was a leader after God’s own heart and he  placed his faith in God even in difficult times.

David was human and he made many mistakes but his humility allowed him to subject himself to God’s leadership. This humility was deeply rooted in David’s spirituality and the depth of that spirituality which is evidenced in his writing of the Psalms (Lockyer, Herbert, 1961).

The San-Mel Temperament of David

David exhibited the qualities of the San-Mel temperament.

This is a combination of Sanguine and Melancholy.

  • Sanguine = buoyant, positive, confident, cheerful, cheery; informal upbeat.
  • Melancholy = gloomy, forlorn, depressed, downhearted, miserable.

David was well liked by men and women. He was very artistic as shown by his poetic Psalms and the accounts of his artistic activities. This temperament had the tendency to develop a close, intimate walk with God.

David demonstrated this quality in the descriptions given in Scriptures of his walk with God. Even New Testament writers like Luke recognized the behavior and character of King David when he wrote in Acts 13:21-22,

“..He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.”

David’s Challenges As A Growing Leader

A growing leader is one who is not satisfied to attain a high level of competence then stops trying to improve. The growing leader is one who is constantly seeking personal growth.

David gained great fame with his defeat of Goliath and then gained a position in the army becoming a leader in King Saul’s army.

After David defeated Goliath King Saul became jealous.  Events beyond his control forced David to become the leader of a group of soldiers which became his private army as he sought refuge from Saul (Towns, Elmer, 2007).  This is the case for most growing leaders;  Challenges and disappointment can often increase leadership skills.

 Personal Growth for Legitimate Leadership Is Essential At All Times

Growth as a leader increases one’s effectiveness as a leader.

According to John Maxwell’s Law of the Lid, an organization can only rise to the level of its leadership.

If a person has a strong leadership quality then the organization will have a high lid. The effectiveness of an organization and individuals is based on the strength of leadership (Maxwell, John, 1998/2007). A leader must seek personal growth and improve leadership abilities to be more effective.

A study of David’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats provide a rich environment to study leadership.

David’s Strengths As A Leader

A growing leader is not dependent on any one spiritual gift but rather the leader identifies his or her gifts then fully develops those gifts. David was qualified to be a leader because he had developed an intimate relationship with God.

According to 1 Samuel 16, the other sons of Jesse were from outward appearances quite acceptable for leadership.

This was the error that the nation had made in selecting Saul for their king. They selected Saul for king because they felt he looked like a leader.

Man looks upon the physical appearance but cannot know the heart.  Jeremiah 17:9 says,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (KJV)

The prophet Samuel was looking upon the appearance of the candidates while God looked upon David’s heart.

The Signs of Legitimate Leadership

One of the first opportunities for David’s growth as a leader is mentioned in the Bible was when he had the opportunity to serve King Saul in his palace. God had placed David in a situation where he could observe a leader who refused to grow.

Saul was a failed leader, and David had the opportunity to learn from Saul’s negative leadership model.

David saw Saul’s refusal to yield completely to God. This refusal resulted in Saul being troubled by an evil spirit that could only be alleviated by David’s music.

David would see the damage that Saul’s wounded pride would do as Saul grew more jealous of David’s successes.  The time David spent with Saul was a leadership laboratory in which David learned what not to do to be a good leader (Towns, Elmer, 2007).

David seized opportunities to become a leader by:

  • His willingness to serve in battle and victory over Goliath.
  • His willingness to serve God in a way that King Saul did not possess.

Each experience and success garnered David a great reputation among the people and increased his influence.

David’s Leadership Grew by the Relationships He Developed

David worked to increase his influence further by strengthening his relationship with his followers.  As David had to seek the safety of the wilderness to escape Saul, he was forced to grow as a leader by learning to relate to different types of followers.

As his leadership skills grew, so did the size of his following. The experience in the wilderness led to David’s growth as a leader in that he learned to grow in spite of his circumstances. As the war with Saul continued, David waxed stronger as Saul’s strength waned (Towns, Elmer, 2007).

David learned that a prolonged conflict would not benefit legitimate leadership.

David observed the destructive effects of a prolonged civil war. For this reason, David learned the leadership skill of reaching out to others. He welcomed those who were outside of his realm of influence into his group.

  • This is seen with his response to the deaths of Abner and Ishbosheth. He took steps to build trust among those who had opposed him. He made overtures to them to bring peace to the nation.
  • This had the beneficial effect for David of expanding his kingdom to include Israel (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
  • This was not a rapid result but a patient progression that took seven and a half years. David had grown as a leader to be patient. He grew in his personal relationship with God to wait upon the Lord.

David’s Weaknesses As A Leader

One of David’s  greatest weaknesses can be found in the area of his thought life.

This can be seen in the situation with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. David’s sin was not in seeing her bathing but choosing to keep his eyes there.  This showed a weakness in his thought life. This weakness would have disastrous effects on the rest of his life.

David made mistakes that negatively impacted his credibility among his followers and his family.  David’s mistake poured into his family. His handling of his family affairs is an example of a growing leader making mistakes.

When Amon raped his half-sister, Tamar, David mishandled the situation that led to Absalom killing Amon and rebelling against David.

These events would lead to a succession of crisis in David’s life.  A leader’s weaknesses and mistakes can have long ranging effects that cannot be foreseen.

This is why all those in leadership need a good coach and counselor.

Some Conclusions About David’s Leadership Skills

Here are ten basic facts that can be learned about legitimate leadership from the story of King David.

  1. David was human and not perfect.
  2. King David made mistakes but his humility allowed him to be honest about his weaknesses.
  3. Humility was deeply rooted in David’s relationship with God
  4. The depth of David’s humility and willingness to be led as a leader are shown in his writing of the Psalms.
  5. David is the biblical example of a growing leader.
  6. A growing leader is one who is not satisfied with just attaining a high level of competence but continues to seek ways and area where he can improve (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
  7. A true leader, like David, knows that growth requires change.
  8. David came to understand that growth as a leader increases one’s effectiveness as a leader.
  9. The effectiveness of any organization is based on the strength of leadership.
  10. An organization can only rise to the level of its leadership.

If a person has a legitimate leadership quality, then the organization will do extremely well.

Because David developed his leadership skills, he was able to unite the nation of Israel and take it to great victories. A study of David’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats can provide can lessons for anyone wanting to grow as a leader.


  • Lockyer, Herbert. (1961). All the Kings and Queens of The Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
  • Mawell, John C. (2007). The Twenty-one Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (Tenth Anniversary ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. (Original work published 1998)
  • Moore, Marc A. (2004). The Art of War. Birmingham, AL: Sweet Water Press.
  • Personal Temperament Test: Profile. (2008). The 12 Blends of Temperaments from the book “Why You Act The Way You Do” by Tim LaHaye. Retrieved 7 November 2008 from http://www.goingthedistance.org/pages.asp?pageid=18155
  • Swindoll, Chuck. (1997). A Man of Passion and Destiny: David. Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, Inc.
  • Towns, Elmer L. (2007). Biblical Models for Leadership. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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