The Heart and Hands of a Leader
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Psalm 78:72)
David blew it. It sounded like a good idea. How was he to make good strategic plans if he didn’t know how many men he had? Surely all the other kings knew how many men they had, why shouldn’t David count his?
Joab had warned him it wasn’t a good idea. David shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss the counsel of one of his department heads – even if it was Joab.
So now, because of their leader, the whole nation faced judgment from God. We do know from 1 Samuel 24:1 that God was angry with Israel and used David to bring about his judgment. But it’s safe to say that none of us, including David, ever want to be used by God in that way.
Although the passages (1 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21) don’t explicitly tell us, it seems likely that it was David’s motivation that was sinful. Perhaps he was driven by pride. Maybe he was thinking there was an opportunity to collect more taxes. The act of counting people was not, in itself, sinful. So David’s action wasn’t on a list of sinful activities, but his motivations weren’t pleasing to God.
It’s encouraging to me that David's reputation for shepherding the people with “integrity of heart and skillful hands” stood despite this and other stories of David’s failures. It gives me hope that God can redeem my leadership from the ashes of my blunders!
Let’s look more closely at the two aspects of David’s leadership that Asaph chose to memorialize in Psalm 78:72.
With Integrity of Heart
As the story unfolds, David acknowledges his foolish sin. His people were suffering even though he alone was guilty. Recovering from his lapse of integrity he cries out to God, “I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? LORD my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.” (1 Chron. 21:17b)
Leaders with integrity of heart admit their mistakes and bear the consequences of their decisions.
Leaders with integrity of heart admit their mistakes and bear the consequences of their decisions. Even more, they desire to protect their followers from the consequences of the leader’s errors.
Then David further demonstrates his integrity when, in obedience to God, he acquired a plot of land to build an altar for the Lord (1 Chron. 21:18-25). The landowner offered to give David everything he needed. David would have been within his rights and probably viewed as wise if he had accepted the offer. But he wasn’t going to allow one of his people to pay the cost. “No”, David said, “I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” (1 Chron. 21:24b)
Once David recognized his sin and recovered from his integrity slip, he was honest about his failure. There was no attempt to pass the buck or avoid the consequences. He didn’t back down from his responsibilities or commitments even when he could easily have done so.
I define integrity as unwavering commitment to maintaining your standards. Here are a few attributes of integrity to assess your own heart against. What would you add to this list?
- Trustworthy: I keep my promises and my intentions are good.
- Transparent: I'm willing to be vulnerable and open with others.
- Authentic: I'm not pretentious, posturing, or insincere.
- Honest: I'm committed to truth even when deception appears beneficial to me.
- Loyal: I remain supportive even when it would be easier to turn away
Sometimes staying true to our integrity looks foolish to others. It may even seem like we’re passing up on God-given opportunities. Like when David had a chance to kill Saul but merely cut off a corner of his robe (1 Sam. 24). Or the second time when David refused to kill him and just took his spear and water jug instead (1 Sam. 26). David stayed true to his conviction that Saul was anointed by God, even though Saul was seeking to kill David.
In his book, Building the Bridge As You Walk On It: A Guide for Leading Change, (Jossey-Bass, 2004) author Robert E. Quinn provides a model that is helpful for assessing if our heart is in what he calls the “Fundamental State of Leadership.” Quinn’s unusual take on leadership defines it as a state of mind that we go in and out of. When we’re in it, personal agendas take a backseat to shared purpose. We seek to bring out the best in ourselves and others to achieve our mission. I believe the four components of his model provide a helpful representation of a leader walking in integrity:
- Other-Focused: I am transcending my ego, putting the common good and welfare of others first, increasing in authenticity and transparency, nurturing trust, and enriching the levels of connectivity in my networks.
- Purpose-Centered: I am clarifying what results I want to create. I am committed and engaged, full of energy and holding an unwavering standard as I pursue a meaningful task.
- Internally Directed: I am continually examining my hypocrisy and closing the gaps between my values and behavior. I am reaching higher levels of personal security and confidence.
- Externally Open: I am moving outside my comfort zone, experimenting, seeking real feedback, adapting, and reaching exponentially higher levels of discovery, awareness, competence, and vision.
With Skillful hands
Asaph calls out a second aspect of David’s leadership in saying that “with skillful hands he led them.” It is possible to have good heart integrity and motivations and still not do things well.
Leaders with integrity don't neglect developing the skills they need to lead effectively.
That’s why leaders with integrity don’t neglect developing the skills they need to lead effectively. Soft skills like emotional intelligence, communication, coaching and developing others, and team building are essential for every effective leader. Most positions that require leadership skills also require expertise in one or more hard skills like finance, marketing, and technology. Ministry-specific skills like teaching, counseling, donor development, cross-cultural awareness, recruiting and managing volunteers, and board development also need ongoing attention. Continually sharpening our own skills is a leadership essential.
But leaders with integrity also recognize that there are gaps in their own abilities. So they surround themselves with people of diverse skills and perspectives. Likeminded “Yes-men” tend to annoy us less. But we need to value – not just tolerate – those who are gifted differently than we are.
Take it From Here
As leaders, our role is to encourage those we lead to reach their full God-given potential in their role. Should we expect any less as we lead ourselves? We should always be working on some aspect of our character or some skill that would equip us to serve God and those we lead better.
If you haven’t identified the next character improvement you want to make or leadership skill you want to develop, why not do that now? Then decide the next step you’ll take to begin achieving that growth.
May it be said by those whom God has entrusted to your leadership that you shepherded with integrity of heart and led them with skillful hands.