Leadership Lessons from the Life of David

September 12th, 2019

We can learn much about leadership by studying the lives of Bible characters. Previously in our “Leadership Lessons from the Bible” series we have learned from Jesus , Joseph, Nehemiah and the Apostle Paul. Today, we’ll look at leadership lessons from the life of David.

Like all leaders, David experienced highs and lows, successes and failures. Here are 9 leadership lessons we can learn from the life of David:

Leaders demonstrate courage.

In 1 Samuel 17:7, we read that David, a youth, and the youngest son of Jesse, courageously tells Saul “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” He then killed the giant Goliath with just a sling and with a stone. Today, good leaders need to demonstrate leadership courage. While not including killing a giant, leaders will need to be able to do such things as make bold decisions, take risks, deliver unpopular messages to their teams, and honestly provide feedback and evaluate performance.

Good leaders will experience success.

There were many significant successes in David’s life, actually too many to mention here. We could talk about his courage, his loyalty, his faith, and his success as king, musician, and warrior. Christian leaders who experience success should realize that success comes from God, and thank Him for it. They will also have to learn how to humbly handle success in leadership.

Leaders are called by God.

John Maxwell has written “No one has ever been called to do something he or she wasn’t suited for. Calling always matches who you are.” Though an introvert, I am convinced that leadership is my calling. I have served in leadership positions in the church, business and professional industry organizations. David was called to be a leader. He was God’s choice for King of Israel and he was anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:13). He was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).

Leaders need trusted friends.

Leadership is difficult, and can be lonely at times. Leaders need to have good friends that they can trust. David had a good friend in Jonathan, the son of King Saul. As David’s popularity grew (1 Samuel 18:7), Saul became jealous of David. Even when Saul tried to kill David, the friendship between David and Jonathan remained strong, and they remained loyal to each other.

Leaders will face opposition.

Eventually, all leaders will face opposition. It could be from a direct-report, a peer or in some cases even their immediate supervisor. David too had his enemies, one of which was King Saul. I mentioned above that Saul became jealous of David as his popularity exceeded that of Saul. We read in 1 Samuel 19: 2 that it was Saul’s son Jonathan, David’s close friend, who told David that his father sought to kill him. Not every leader will face such a situation of course, but you will most likely encounter enemies as a leader.

Leaders show mercy.

Leaders often have the opportunity to show mercy or compassion to their direct reports. I think that is key to servant leadership. For example, you might have a team member who is missing deadlines, or their quality of work has declined significantly. When you address this with them, you find out that a family member has been hospitalized and your employee has been spending a significant amount of time with them in the hospital. A leader has the opportunity to show compassion and understanding in such a situation. David demonstrated mercy to Saul. I mentioned above that David had been told by Jonathan that Saul wanted to kill him. In 1 Samuel 24, we read that David had a chance to kill Saul, but in verse 6 he states “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.”  He also showed respect for his leader and his position, whether or not the leader deserved it or earned it.

Leaders will experience failure.

Leaders constantly face temptations in the workplace. Not hardly a week goes by without us hearing about another leader who has experienced a moral failure. This happened to David as well. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and tried to cover it up, but Uriah, who David recalled from the war, refused to cooperate. Then, David had Uriah murdered by ordering that he be put on the frontline of battle. The whole problem started with David not going off to war like kings normally would in the spring.  He delegated it and chose to stay home.

Leaders who fall can repent and be restored.

It is possible for leaders to repent of their failings. Depending on their offense, they may even be able to be restored to a leadership position. David did not admit his sin until he was confronted by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12. After he was rebuked, David confessed that he had sinned against the LORD. Psalm 51 is a psalm of confession in which David prays that God will create in him a clean heart, and renew in him a right spirit.  In today’s workplace, it is good to be transparent and right to admit when you’re wrong.

Leaders who fall will experience consequences.

When leaders fall, there are always consequences. Those consequences may include the loss of family, job, reputation, or in some cases all of the above. For David, the consequences were devastating, including in 2 Samuel 12: 10 “the sword shall never depart from your house”, and in v. 11 “I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. But Nathan leaves perhaps the most painful consequence for last, indicating that the child conceived with Bathsheba would die.

David was a leader who had both successes and failures.  There are many leadership lessons that we can learn from him. I’ve listed just 9 here. What would you add to the list?

This is part of a series of articles on leadership origianlly published at Bill Pence's blogsite, Coram Deo and appears here by permission.

Matteo Rosselli The triumphant David.

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