Nehemiah: A Case Study on Leadership and Implementing Change
NOTE: This is the wrap up on recent Weekly Briefings that focused on nine major themes for implementing organizational change. We have been looking for clues to answer the question, “Why do some men’s discipleship programs succeed while others languish or fail?” These principles apply equally to the successful implementation of any change initiative — whether at work and church, or in the family, personal ministries, or community. I’m sorry this is longer than ususal…
Nehemiah was a high official to the king of Persia. Nearly a century had passed since the Jews had returned to the land of Judah. When Nehemiah’s brother came for a visit, Nehemiah asked his brother how things were going for the people and for Jerusalem. They reported that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and the nation laid in ruins. Imagine if the Capitol in Washington, D. C. had laid in ruins for almost a century! Nehemiah was grieved.
I’m intrigued. I’ve just spent two and a half years of my life reading scholarly literature on leadership and organizational change. Ironically, everything discovered over the last 100 hundred years about implementing change can be all found by reading the book of Nehemiah — written nearly 2,500 years ago!
(I gave a message on this at the Man in the Mirror Bible Study entitled, “What a Leader Needs to Know to Do Something Great for God,”
Here is a summary of the nine themes we’ve studied as found in the book of Nehemiah. (I’ve changed the order of the 9 themes from the way originally presented to flow with the text. Chapter and Verse in parentheses are all from Nehemiah).
The Theme of Leadership
Nehemiah 1 portrays a man who weeps, mourns, fasts, prays, and repents for his people — a humble man. Jim Collins found leaders of Good to Great companies were a mixture of personal humility and professional will — what he termed a “Level 5” leader (Collins, 2001). The rest of the book of Nehemiah gives a case study of a transformational leader with an iron will who was personally involved in making his vision become reality. And Nehemiah found support from his CEO, the king. Nehemiah said, “Let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it” (2:5), and the king granted his request (2:8).
If you have time, go back and compare Nehemiah to the Implementation Factors for Leadership presented in the previous Weekly Briefing on The Theme of Leadership.
The Theme of The Right Idea
After Nehemiah had gathered information from his brother (1:3), he prayerfully thought about it 1:4-11). God put a vision into his mind to rebuild the city of his fathers (2:5). He first shared his vision with the king (2:4-5). Once he arrived in Jerusalem he secretly surveyed the damage under cover of darkness (2:11-16). When he introduced his vision and plan, it captured the imaginations of the leaders in Jerusalem. They believed his plan would work! (2:17-18).
Let me encourage you to compare Nehemiah to the Implementation Factors for The Right Idea presented in the previous Weekly Briefing on The Theme of The Right Idea.
The Theme of Resources
Nehemiah carefully assembled the resources he would need — written authorizations (2:7), timber for construction (2:8), capable people to do the work (2:17-18), and money (7:70-72). He created an organizational structure to assign the work (3:1-32).
Considering comparing Nehemiah to the Implementation Factors for Resources presented in the previous Weekly Briefing on The Theme of Resources.
The Theme of Planning
Nehemiah formulated his strategy while still in Persia (1:8-11). He developed a comprehensive plan to rebuild the wall once he arrived in Jerusalem and analyzed the situation (2:11-16).
Go back and compare Nehemiah to the Implementation Factors for Planning presented in the previous Weekly Briefing on The Theme of Planning.
The Theme of People
Nehemiah challenged his people with a compelling vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (2:17). He created an atmosphere for people to speak up (2:18). He recruited the leaders of the city to do the work (2:16).
If you have time, compare Nehemiah to the Implementation Factors for People presented in the previous Weekly Briefing on The Theme of People.
The Theme of Execution
Forty leaders and their crews work side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder to rebuild the wall (3:1-32). (Think Baptists, Methodists, Assemblies of God, Church of God, E-Free, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Non-Denominational, House Churches, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Main Lines). Some built large sections; others built next to where they lived. The each did according to their ability and resources. The wall was just the pilot project for Nehemiah’s plan to restore the nation (7:1-4). He had feedback mechanisms in place to get feedback about progress (4:6). Nehemiah had also a contingency plan (4:16-18).
Compare Nehemiah to the Implementation Factors for Execution presented in the previous Weekly Briefing on The Theme of Execution.
The Theme of Resistance
Sanballat and Tobiah fiercely opposed Nehemiah and his plan, so they “prayer to our God, and posted a guard” (4:9). But that wasn’t all — there were other types of internal resistance. The workers got tired, the rubble made it difficult to work (4:10), and others ran out of money (5:1-6). He also had mechanisms to identify resistance (4:11-12). When they faced opposition, Nehemiah had worked out a communication plan to deal with resistance (4:19).
Compare Nehemiah to the Implementation Factors for Resistance presented in the previous Weekly Briefing on The Theme of Resistance.
The Theme of Communication
When Nehemiah was ready to go public with his ideas, he called the leaders together and extolled the virtues of his vision and plan (2:16-18). They celebrated the short term success of completing the the wall with a great celebration (12:27-43).
If you have time, consider comparing Nehemiah to the Implementation Factors for Communication presented in the previous Weekly Briefing on The Theme of Communication.
The Theme of Sustainability
Despite fierce resistance from within and without, Nehemiah and his team rebuilt the wall in 52 days. But the city was large, and the people were few (7:4). To sustain the vision and plans Nehemiah had started to implement, the city needed ongoing leadership. So Nehemiah appointed his brother to lead them (7:2). He appointed staff to maintain the city (7:3). And he repopulated Jerusalem with people (7:4-5). He repopulated the towns of Israel (7:73). He normalized Jerusalem and stabilized the land promised to his fathers.
Finally, go back and compare Nehemiah to the Implementation Factors for Sustainability presented in the previous Weekly Briefing on The Theme of Sustainability.
You can save the souls of many of your men and bring stability to their families by implementing a sustainable men’s discipleship ministry. These have bee the nine themes that implementing any such plan must take into account.
No plan can succeed unless God is in it. However, the quality of our success will be determined by how carefully we pay attention to these implementation factors. Close will not be good enough. What’s the saying? Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I’m praying for you…
Your brother in the battle,