Leading in Those Awkward Moments

by Andy Wood on November 4, 2013

in Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Legacy, Protecting Your Investment

Half Full Half EmptyWhat do you do when you’re the leader and somebody on your team drops the ball? Or worse, in their zeal for your cause, they do more harm than good?  Every leader would relish having people with the strength of a bull on their team.  We just don’t want the bulls charging into china shops.

Leadership is forged during awkward times. During periods of public strain, pain, or frustration, our attention turns to those we presume to be in leadership. On a national scale, for example, people in the United States turn to the president to help make sense of their fearful or angry moments (and we’ve had our share of those lately).

They assume that leaders have something to say.  They watch instead for what the leader actually does.  They’re not looking for place holders. They’re looking for leaders who have a sense for how to please them as they lead them.  And as leaders throughout time have discovered, there is no such thing as private or secret leadership.  Heck, even the Secret Service isn’t that secret.

In between the stories of his giant killing and his adultery dodging, an obscure little verse in the Bible describes how people responded to its beloved King David.  It’s every leader’s dream come true:

Now all the people took note of it, and it pleased them, just as everything the king did pleased all the people (2 Samuel 3:36).

What’s interesting isn’t that David was so winsome.  What’s interesting is what happened to prompt such a response, first from the king, then from the people.  This was one of those awkward moments.  People were shocked, frustrated, and angry because a respected leader had been deceived and murdered in cold blood.

By the “good guys.”

The Back Story

The victim: a man named Abner, commander of Saul’s armies and a man who once had fought alongside David – when he wasn’t leading the charge to hunt David down and kill him for the king.  After Saul’s death, a civil war of sorts ensued for seven years between the followers of Saul and the followers of David.

In the midst of this, two of David’s most trusted men crossed the line.  If wars have rules (and they actually are supposed to), David’s men cheated. They tricked Abner – now supposedly an ally – into a private meeting and killed him.

Desirable result?  Maybe.

Preferable form?  Absolutely not.

And that whoosh you just read between the lines? That was the head turning of a million Israelis, looking to see what their king would do.

Meanwhile, David was just as shocked at everybody else. After all, there is a right way to win; David was one of the original “Win/Win” thinkers.  And this was an ugly case of Win/Lose.

So the leader sprang into action. He publicly declared his innocence and disavowed any knowledge or support for Joab’s actions. He actually brought down a curse on Joab’s family! His own commanding general!  He then ordered Joab to join him in a time of national mourning for the slain commander. David composed a lament-type psalm to mourn the loss. And he fasted until the time of mourning had ended.

Did it work?

Extraordinarily well.  David’s leadership didn’t make a bad action good.  Nor did it spoon-feed cynics with political posturing.  During an awkward moment, David stepped up and led. And he left it to his interpreters and critics to forge an opinion on the matter.

People are all the time taking note of those they look to as leaders.  And at this time in his life, no one presented a greater model of the heart of a leader than David.  What is it that David did that brought such respect and love from people – even his enemies? And what can leaders today learn from his example?

1.  The respect he showed even an enemy who is in a position of leadership.

Just once I’d like to hear a Democrat praise the work of a living Republican, or vice-versa, at least out of respect. Talk about scandalous!

David may have been on opposite sides of the battlefield, but he never allowed his heart to become so consumed with hatred or bitterness that he lost respect or perspective. Neither should you.  Regardless of the field of leadership, you will have adversaries. Respect the process enough to recognize that the adversity makes you stronger and clarifies your understanding of truth and justice. Also respect the big picture enough to recognize that victory doesn’t come from the annihilation of your enemies or competition, but in the fulfillment of your purpose.

2.  The example he presented to his own people.

I don’t think a lot of this was particularly intended to be a public display – except perhaps the public statement. Those closest to David saw his reaction and followed his example. And like ripples in a rock-struck pool, that influence grew wider and wider as the reports of David’s example continue to spread.

David’s words spoke loudly. His actions spoke even louder.  So will yours.

3.  The integrity with which he maintained his relationships.

Some interesting things emerge from these events.  First, Joab remained David’s commander throughout his life. But Joab’s actions nevertheless brought down a curse on him and his family, to be carried out later by Solomon.

Most importantly, however, was that David recognized the magnitude of who had died and despite what had to be sure threats from Abner’s allies, David led the funeral procession and wept at Abner’s grave.

Years of constant conflict can have an effect on someone’s character. But David demonstrated integrity here, both in his inner circle and in his leadership. He didn’t compromise his values just because “his team” won.  How about you? Would you fight harder to maintain your integrity than you would to win at all costs?

4.  The diligence with which he pursued unity in Israel, even with factions under him.

The big picture here was the pursuit of a unified nation. David ruled with factions under him for most of his life (and some of that was his own making). Nevertheless, he was secure enough in his own identity that he pursued a united nation and avoided conflict as much as he possibly could.

Anybody can organize a conquest. It takes a leader to forge a “team of rivals,” and that’s what David did.  Is your leadership courageous and strong enough to confront your own supporters or team for the sake of unity?

5.  The willingness he demonstrated to use his gifts (writing music), even in a strained and painful time.

I find it interesting that in a time of mourning, David returned to writing psalms. Why? Because he was a psalmist! This was one of the many ways that the Lord had anointed him to offer service to the king and the kingdom.

When you face painful seasons, this is no time for trying out new recipes. Go back to what you do well and do it.


Leadership exists for moments such as this.  When whatever can go wrong actually does, leaders don’t whine or hide behind their positions or politics.  They set an example of action and respect. They pursue unity (not uniformity) and integrity. And they stay true to their gifts and calling.

And the people around them follow – not because they have to, but because they want to.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Martha Orlando November 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Looking at the true leadership of David and comparing it to the shenanigans we see in our so-called leadership in this country today really brings it home. It’s not what leaders say, it’s what they do that tells the truth about their characters.
Thanks for this great post, Andy!
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..Give Me a Break!

Cecilia F November 9, 2015 at 12:39 am

I love, love, love this blog so much! Thank you for your continual insight and leadership throughout this cycle!

Even hearing about David makes me want to read the book all over again!

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: