Great Leaders fear. Sounds counter intuitive doesn’t it?
The contemporary ideal of a leader is a strong, brash, dominating and charismatic personality that never wavers and projects absolute fearlessness. Perhaps that is why many of the leaders we venerate and place on pedestals fall so frequently.
Leadership is not about projecting an ideal and ignoring reality. Leadership hinges on a leaders ability to identify reality and respond intentionally based on each circumstance. This may mean to boldly embrace innovation at one moment, while slowing down to heed conservative wisdom at another. It may require that we lead a charge forward in the face of opposition while simultaneously knowing when turn and try another tactic. There will inevitably come times when every true leader will face real and undeniable fear. Failure to address and respond to fear leads to living in that fear. As Sophocles wrote, “To him who is in fear, everything rustles.” What a devastating way to try and lead. Rather then hide, mask or ignore fear, the true leader will identify it, seek to understand it and respond in a calculated and strategic manner.
The people of Israel faced significant threats as they returned from exile to rebuild the temple in the book of Ezra. The task ahead of them must have seemed both energizing and ominous.
Ezra 3:3 tells us that, “fear was on them because of the peoples of the land…” Subsequent chapters show us that this fear was not unwarranted, as they continually faced aggressive social, political and often violent opposition. While many leaders would have postured up an portray false confidence to attempt to rally the people. The leaders of the Israelites at this time were two extremely wise priests named Zerubbabel and Jeshua. Rather then provoke a war, or get right to the rebuilding, they chose to pause, identify and understand the fear they faced.
The people of the land posed a significant threat, that in all likelihood would significantly delay, disrupt or destroy the rebuilding efforts. They quickly understood that their only hope was to turn the people to God and petition Him to intervene. Rather then develop defense or military strategies, Ezra tells us “…the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem… and they built the alter of the God of Israel… they set the laser in its place… to offer burnt offerings in it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening” (Ezra 3:1-3). Ezra goes on to chronicle how they made daily, monthly and seasonal offerings. Rather then react to a fearful situation, Zerubabbel and Jeshua led the people of Israel in a strategic response to the fear.
These incredible leaders understood a universal principle penned centuries later by the Apostle Paul, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” Romans 8:31. Great leaders don’t run from fear. They identify it, understand it and respond strategically. What better strategy, then seeking, worshiping and trusting in the God of the universe?
Great leaders fear… and respond strategically.