What does it take to be a good leader? The book of Daniel provides answers. The four Hebrew boys, Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego, and Daniel, grew into men during the Babylonian captivity. The kings they served, primarily Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, gave them positions of power. As we look at the interactions between the kings and the Hebrew men, as well as the decisions they all made, we gain valuable insights regarding what does and doesn't make an effective leader. Here are 10 characteristics that make effective leaders.
- Make God our number one priority. Pray.
- All four boys put God first and prayed to God daily.
- After that, they served the kings loyally and helped the kingdom prosper.
When we understand what's important to us and why, then we can do what is right, or what is the best possible thing to do, under any given circumstance. If God is first in our lives, then we will be able to withstand the myriad of outside pressures that would try to convince us that our commitment to God isn't necessary.
- Do what is right all the time, not just when it's convenient. Maintain our integrity.
- Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego knew that bowing down to Nebuchadnezzar's huge statue of gold was not consistent with their faith in God or with the Ten Commandments, by which they lived their lives. They also knew that the punishment for not worshipping the idol was getting thrown into a fiery furnace. Yet, they stayed true to God and to themselves.
- Daniel's practice was to pray to God three times a day. And he prayed to God in direct opposition to the decree that "whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days save of [the king] shall be cast into the den of lions" (Dan. 6:7).
- Yet, all four men refused to compromise their integrity. They stood for principle.
- They were consistent and didn't change who they were or what they believed in order to satisfy others.
- Because they disobeyed the latest decrees, they were persecuted. But God protected and saved them.
- For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, "the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them" (3:27).
- "Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God" (6:23).
It's not always easy to do what's right. We could argue that the Hebrews should've just gone through the motions of bowing down to the idol. Perhaps Daniel could've prayed to God without kneeling and facing Jerusalem. Then the Hebrews wouldn't have had to face the fire or lions. But then, the world would not have known how powerful God is. Though these men took the most difficult path, it was also the most rewarding path. Doing what is right takes moral courage.
- Have moral courage. Be strong in the face of conflict or danger. Trust God.
- When Nebuchadnezzar brought Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in to confront them about disobeying his law, the three men told him that "our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace" and affirmed that "we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (3:17, 18). Even though Nebuchadnezzar was furious, they did not fear death, but rather trusted God.
- Like his friends, Daniel, too, trusted God. And, "when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime" (6:10). He gave thanks.
- In neither story is there any account of the men complaining about their situation or struggling when faced with the fire or the lions.
Knowing that they had been true to God and understanding God's true nature made them secure and calm. They knew that God was their salvation. They were able to discern the source of true power and protection.
- Be discerning. Trust heavenly intuition.
- Daniel was able to interpret dreams because he listened to God, not men. One time, Nebuchadnezzar had called in his magicians and astrologers to interpret a dream he couldn't even remember. Yet, Daniel was able to tell the king what his dream was and what it meant (2).
- As a result of listening to God and trusting in his God-given intuition in order to interpret dreams, Daniel was promoted.
- Darius, on the other hand, was not able to discern what was right. He was fooled by his princes and blinded by flattery.
- Daniel, though, was able to see that the king did not really want to hurt him. He knew that the source of the decree was not Darius, but jealousy.
Being able to see short and long term consequences is important in leadership. Human reasoning cannot always tell us the right step to take. Relying on inspiration from God, though, enables us to trust God's direction and turn our lives over to Him. This enables us to make the best choices and to react appropriately when problems arise.
- Respond appropriately to situations. Think before we act.
- Nebuchadnezzar was enraged when he learned that his three Hebrew officials wouldn't worship his statue. He was "full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated" (3:19).
- Darius, on the other hand, did not get angry at Daniel. Rather, he was filled with guilt and tried to find a solution that would spare Daniel. But he did get angry at those who falsely accused Daniel. He threw them and their families into the lions' den (3:23).
- The four Hebrews responded to the accusations leveled against them with confidence, trust, and even respect.
Over-reacting to situations can cause us to lose perspective and to lose control of ourselves and our actions. As leaders, we can count on running into difficult situations, and we can't afford to lose focus or control. If we over-react, we're really hurting ourselves. The four Hebrews had the best response. Their ability to remain calm saved them and helped them progress spiritually and politically. But their goal was not political. Their goal was to live a life that was God-centered. One of the best ways that we can live a God-centered life is to love others -- especially during times when others seem to be trying to harm us.
- Show compassion and concern for others.
- When Darius realized his other advisors had tricked him into signing a foolish law, he tried to think of ways to save Daniel, but he couldn't. He tried to comfort Daniel by saying, "Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee" (6:16). After he sealed the den, he went to his palace and spent a sleepless night "fasting" (6:18). In the morning, Darius ran to the den and "cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel … O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" His prayer was answered.
- Rather than get upset at Darius for not changing the law, Daniel showed compassion for him. He knew the king had been fooled. When Darius called to him, Daniel answered: "O king, live for ever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt" (6:21-22).
Darius and Daniel genuinely respected each other. The king took care of Daniel as best as he could. Daniel didn't hold anything against Darius. Darius was forgiven.
- Daniel could have made the king feel worse by laying on the guilt. But he didn't. He gave him slack. He knew Darius was struggling and had realized his mistake. So, he treated him with respect, all the while praying to God.
- Forgiveness enabled Darius to feel the transforming power and presence of God.
We also have to forgive ourselves. Forgiveness allows us to move on, to progress. Forgiveness helps and heals both the wrong-doer and the one who was wronged. But being able to forgive others and ourselves requires a great deal of humility.
- Express humility. Be willing to admit when we're wrong.
- Nebuchadnezzar made the statue to show his greatness -- not a sign of humility.
- Darius fell prey to the flattery his advisors gave him. His ego made him sign the ridiculous decree.
- But both kings were humbled and willing to admit they made mistakes. They did not defend their bad laws. Rather, they recognized God and made amends.
- Their humility enabled them to change their viewpoints. When Nebuchadnezzar saw the "Son of God" walking in the "midst of the fire" (3:25), he affirmed, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God" (3:28).
- But it took a bit longer for Nebuchadnezzar truly to get his ego out of the way. His kingdom was taken away, and he lived as an animal for seven years until he fully recognized that God governed all. After that experience, he said, "Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase" (4:37).
It's important not to let our own egos fool us into doing things to make us look good. It's also important not to think that we are the source of our own success; God is. Nor is pride the source of strength; humility is. When we're humble, we're leaning on God for wisdom, strength, and guidance. If we really want to be strong leaders, then we must cultivate humility, which will enable us to change and act as God directs.
- Be willing to change rules, laws, customs, and practices when they are: a) not aligned with God and progress; and b) no longer blessing us and those around us.
- Even though both Nebuchadnezzar and Darius originally adhered to the laws they created (which, once written and signed, couldn't be changed), they made new decrees that annulled the other decrees when they learned the truth.
- After Nebuchadnezzar saw the Hebrew boys saved from the fire, he made a decree that no one could "speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego" (3:29).
- After Darius found David safe in the lions' den, he said, "I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions" (6:26, 27).
Being able to change is one of the hardest things to do. We all get used to acting and doing things in a certain way. Yet, making changes based upon guidance from God shows truly that we understand that God is the real leader.
- The best leader is the best follower of God.
- For the very best leader, we turn to Jesus, who affirmed, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:20).
As leaders, we may want to ask ourselves how our lives are bearing "fruit," how we are doing good works. Following the example of our master and allowing our lives to be led by God truly enable us to express all the qualities that make an effective leader and have the fruits that follow.
Here are two stories of the Hebrew men from the King James Version of the Bible. As you read them, notice how they are good leaders and how they show their kings what is truly requisite for good leadership.
Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellers, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellers, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews. They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever. Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellers, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counsellers, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in the province of Babylon.
It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom; And over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first: that the princes might give accounts unto them, and the king should have no damage. Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm. Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him. Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God. Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever. All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellers, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the decree. Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God. Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king's decree; Hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day. Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him. Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed. Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee. And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of music brought before him: and his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God. And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den. Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.