Nehemiah is recognized by most commentators as an example of extraordinary leadership. And the biblical book that bears his name is often mined for principles of leadership.
And it might be tempting to suppose that Nehemiah was blessed with unique circumstances that made it easy to lead — he held a high and privileged position in the Babylonian government under Artaxerxes (1:11) and he went to Israel with papers from that king giving him permission, authority, and resources (2:5-8) to accomplish his task. So, one might reason, of course he succeeded; how could he not.
Yet we must not miss all the obstacles that Nehemiah faced in Israel:
- the walls of the city were broken and the gates were burned (1:2-3)
- false accusations against him and the workers (2:19)
- the opposition ridiculed the project and the participants (4:1-3)
- there was a plot to attack the workers (4:7-8)
- the workers were physically exhausted and labored under the threat of possibly being murdered (4:10-12)
- there was economic crisis and greed (5:1-5)
- there was a plot to harm or even assassinate Nehemiah (6:1-2)
- Nehemiah was slandered (6:5-7)
- men were hired to intimidate and discredit Nehemiah (6:13)
- one of the leaders of the opposition, Tobiah, was given residence in the temple; so Tobiah could lead opposition against the ministry of God while purporting to support the work of God (13:4ff)
- the temple offerings were neglected (13:10)
- the Sabbath was violated for the sake of commerce (13:15-16)
- Israelites began to intermarry with surrounding pagan nations (13:23-24)
Nehemiah’s task was hardly easy; from a human perspective, it was no guaranteed success. So what did he do that enabled him to be such an effective leader?
Donald Campbell (Nehemiah: Mun in Charge, p. 23; HT: BKC) lists 21 factors that contributed to Nehemiah’s successful leadership:
1. He established a reasonable and attainable goal.
2. He had a sense of mission.
3. He was willing to get involved.
4. He rearranged his priorities in order to accomplish his goal.
5. He patiently waited for God’s timing.
6. He showed respect to his superior.
7. He prayed at crucial times.
8. He made his request with tact and graciousness.
9. He was well prepared and thought of his needs in advance.
10. He went through proper channels.
11. He took time (three days) to rest, pray, and plan.
12. He investigated the situation firsthand.
13. He informed others only after he knew the size of the problem.
14. He identified himself as one with the people.
15. He set before them a reasonable and. attainable goal.
16. He assured them God was in the project.
17. He displayed self-confidence in facing obstacles.
18. He displayed God’s confidence in facing obstacles.
19. He did not argue with opponents.
20. He was not discouraged by opposition.
21. He courageously used the authority of his position.