The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, “Whoever will take the lead in attacking the Ammonites will be head over all who live in Gilead.”
Judges 10:18. (NIV)
Many years ago, I met a man who had lived a fascinating life. Having grown up in Iowa, he worked for a man who was politically connected and ended up being appointed to a position in the federal government. He was asked to accompany his boss to Washington D.C. as his assistant. He quickly rose to a top position within the Commerce Department and served six different presidents directly from FDR through Nixon.
Being a lover of history, I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with this gentleman. He had so many great stories. I asked him who his favorite and least favorite president to work for was. He didn’t hesitate to name both. He shared that Harry Truman was his favorite to work for because Truman was a decision-maker. “If we told Truman we needed a decision on this-or-that by Thursday morning we would always have his decision,” he said. Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, was his least favorite President to work under. “He may have been a good military general,” the man said, “but he didn’t do anything while President except bear the title. He was never around. We got no direction. He made no decisions. He was always playing golf.”
I thought of that conversation this morning as I read today’s chapter. Under oppression from their enemies, the Hebrews living in Gilead proclaim that whoever rises up to lead a military defeat of their enemies will become their undisputed leader. It was quite common in the ancient Near East for “kings” to simply be warlords, and the people of Gilead provide a great example of why it was so common. Survival was dependent on a strong military defense that could withstand the regular attacks of neighboring peoples and tribes. Strong military leaders quickly came to control everything.
That doesn’t mean, however, that good military leaders make good civic leaders. I have heard it consistently argued by historians that military generals who succeed at civic leadership tend to be the exceptions, not the rule. For every George Washington, who was successful at both, there is a handful of those who were less than successful being President, including Eisenhower, U.S. Grant, and Andrew Jackson. In fact, there are eight other Presidents I haven’t named who were military generals and I’ll bet you can’t name more than one or two.
Along my life journey, I’ve learned that there are different kinds of leadership, and that leadership is not one-size-fits-all. In the same way, there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, different kinds of talent, and different temperaments. Every human organization from families to businesses to churches and athletic teams requires having the right kind of leadership and having people in the right positions to utilize their gifts and talents in order for the system to function well.
At the same time, I’ve learned that it’s important for me to be in positions that fit my temperament, gifts, and abilities. Whenever I’ve found myself in a job, a position, or a role that is incongruent with the strengths of who I am and how I am wired, my entire life will eventually feel wonky. It’s critical for me to know myself and discern opportunities that are right for me, and those that are not; Not only for my well-being but also for the well-being of whatever human system in which I’m engaged.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.