As I was pondering which leader to choose from the Bible, I first looked at the question, “What is a leader?” Myles Monroe tells us in his book “Becoming a Leader,” that a simple definition of leadership includes the capacity to influence, inspire, rally, direct, encourage, motivate, induce, move, mobilize, and activate others to pursue a common goal or purpose while maintaining commitment, momentum, confidence and courage!” (pg. 30) He also shares, that leadership is the organizing and coordinating of resources, energies and relationships in a productive context for an intended result;” (pg.31) and, further relays that “leadership in its simplest form is the managing of managers toward a common goal.”(pg. 31)
A title does not make you a leader. Leadership is the quality of drawing out the best in other people and inspiring them to reach their personal potential and the potential of the resources that they are in charge of. The purest form of leadership is influence through inspiration. (BAL pg.33) True leadership cannot be divorced or separated from the basic qualities that produce good sound character. (BAL pg.116)
There are many examples of great leadership in the Bible and out of them I chose the Prophet Elisha. He is first introduced to us in 1 Kings 19:16 where the Lord is instructing the Prophet Elijah, “….and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as a prophet.” This was such an auspicious beginning! To be singled out by God the Father for anointing to the office of prophet was a high calling and a great responsibility. We will look at the life of Elisha the prophet by exploring a few qualifications of a leader and how he navigated his role in leadership.
Preparation, humility and submission
As we follow Elisha’s story we see that his leadership training begins immediately. Although, we know that Elisha was to be Elijah’s successor, he first had to answer the call to leadership, this speaks to humility. “Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah…” (1Kings 19:19-20) We see in this scripture that Elijah did not have to persuade Elisha to come and accept his new role, he simply passed him by, he didn’t stop, cajole or demand, he walked by him; threw his cloak – which signified the passing/calling of the mantle of the prophet – and Elisha immediately left his work to join him. “..he ran”…This speaks to Elisha’s willingness to submit to and accept the Lords calling and to Elijah’s mentorship. Submission to authority is one of the needed qualities of a leader. Knowing how to submit to others is vital and prepares you to understand how others will submit to you when you become a true leader. Elijah led and mentored Elisha, giving him the opportunity to learn how to be a godly leader; learning how to humble himself, follow Elijah’s lead and learn other aspects of leadership. (Maxwell Leadership Bible pg. 449) Humility is the awareness, acceptance and appreciation of one’s true worth and value. (BAL.pg.143) Elisha understood that he had much to learn about being a prophet and a leader, even though we know from the scriptures that he was wealthy and had workers on his farm, he had to learn how to lead in a whole different arena. We know that he already possessed the quality of humility because he was in the field with his workers, not lording over them or degrading them or their worth. A true leader will get the job done no matter what the job entails, not merely delegating orders but willing and able to jump in and accomplish the goal. (BAL pg.144) Another sign of Elisha’s submission to Elijah happened when he asked him to return to say goodbye to his parents. This gesture reflects his respect of Elijah’s authority and his ability to submit his will to Elijah. Learning who to submit to and the how to of his calling was part of the preparation that Elisha went through in beginning to assume his role of the prophet.
Vision, commitment, concern, composure and communication
Vision is the ability to see beyond what is presented to you. To grasp a larger picture that encompasses future goals. It is the capacity to see beyond your own natural eyes and see a picture of purpose. (Myles Monroe-The Spirit of Leadership) We can look at Elisha’s leadership quality of vision through his interaction with his servant in 2 Kings 6:8-17. Here Elisha’s servant came running because the Syrian army surrounded them. He was afraid because of what he saw with his natural eye. First, Elisha comforted his servant. He said, “…Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those that are with them.” Elisha was concerned about his servant, committed to his wellbeing and assessed his needs – all qualities of leadership. Not only did he reassure his servant but, Elisha remained calm in the face of adversity – another quality of leadership- and he prayed for the servant to see what he already saw; a mountain covered with chariots of fire and horses; Heavenly hosts that were only visible with his spiritual eyes. (Geneva study Bible) Elisha was unmoved by the physical presence of the army because he could see the angelic hosts that was with them and he helped the servant to see them too. Elisha was clearly able to communicate the vision to his servant. A leader’s perspective is what separates them from followers more than any other characteristic and he must be able to communicate his perspective so that others can understand and willingly follow his lead. Leaders see before, beyond and bigger than the followers do. (MLB pg.456)
Accountability and Integrity
In 2 Kings 5:15-27 we can observe Elisha’s quality of accountability. Accountability is giving a report or reckoning for your own actions; it is an admission of your motives and you reasons for taking particular actions. It is also holding others responsible for their actions as well.
Initially, Elisha was accountable to Elijah, but after Elijah was gone, his accountability was to God and to those around him that he ministered to. Now, Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army and scripture tells us that he was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master. He was also afflicted with leprosy. One of his wife’s maidservants told her that he could be cured by the man of God in Israel – Elisha. Consequently, he went to Israel, sought out Elisha and was healed. Naaman was so grateful that he wanted to give Elisha some gifts. Elisha refused, showing that Gods favor cannot be bought. (NLT-LAB) This was a display of Elisha’s leadership character- integrity. Integrity is trustworthiness; integrity is the virtue of basing actions on an internally-consistent framework of principles. (Wikipedia.com) Elisha’s response to the gift offering speaks to his core values, beliefs and his commitment to upholding those values. Now let’s remember, in the wings stood Elisha servant Gehazi, licking his chops after all those gifts. In his greed, he went running after Naaman and when Naaman saw Gehazi he stopped and asked what was going on. Gehazi proceeded to lie and tell Naaman that Elisha had changed his mind and wanted some of the gifts. When Gehazi returned, Elisha confronted him about the gifts that he took from Naaman. Gehazi lied again and Elisha called him out. “Did not my heart (I saw you by the spirit of prophecy-MH) go with you….?” The Prophet Elisha new everything that had happened; he made sure that Gehazi knew he wasn’t fooled and also held him accountable for his actions. Elisha called to the Lord to punish Gehazi with the same leprosy that Naaman had been cured from.
As a leader, it is our job to hold others accountable for their actions as well as to make sure that we are being held accountable by those that we can trust to have high standards. It is not always easy to uphold this aspect of leadership, but as we can see by Elisha, it is necessary. If Gehazi had gotten away with the lies, deceit and theft, it would have led to even more of the same behavior. A prophet could not surround himself with that kind of character, although it does happen. (MHBC) Likewise, to be a true leader we must surround ourselves with people who will call us on the carpet when we stray too far from the path. We all possess a boundless ability to deceive ourselves and to rationalize our behaviors and sins. That is why leaders need accountability partners too. (MLB –pg.455) Holding those around us accountable and being accountable to others as leaders is vital to the position of leadership.