From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me. Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.” Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water. Nehemiah 4:16-23
The Heart Of An Effective Leader
The threat from the enemies of the Jews caused Nehemiah to activate a strategic plan so that the repair can continue. Although Sanballat, Gershem, and their allies did not attack the Jews yet, Nehemiah needed to have a plan in case the verbal assault turned into a physical confrontation. That plan included three parts. In the first part, Nehemiah set up two groups of men to be involved in the repair. One group was responsible for the safety and security of the workers. That group was equipped with spears, shields, bows, and armor. While the other group was focused solely on the repair, Nehemiah posted officers behind the workers. That move gave the workers the peace of mind to focus on repairing the walls. But it also deters the enemies of the Jews from attacking the workers (v.16).
In the second part, Nehemiah separated builders from those who carried materials for the repair. He appointed bodyguards for the builders, though each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. Those who carried materials to the builders were made to arm themselves as well while carrying the materials. The verse says they carried the materials with one hand and held a weapon in the other (v. 17). In the third part, Nehemiah designated a man to sound the trumpet in case of an attack so the people in the Old City can get ready to defend themselves. That man stayed with Nehemiah wherever he went. This indicates that Nehemiah was actively surveying the work and keeping an eye for any possible attack.
The strategic plan included a central location where everyone would meet in case the people are warned of an imminent attack by the trumpet man. The last phase of the strategic plan was first discussed with the nobles and the officials before Nehemiah presented it to the people. Nehemiah needed to get buy-in from the power-brokers before initiating this aspect of the plan. In verse 19, Nehemiah told the official “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall.” The response to any coordinated attack would be hampered as the people try to get from one side of the wall to the other.
Lastly, Nehemiah asked that every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve the builders as guards by night and as workers by day (v. 22). The majority of the volunteers for the repair did not live in Jerusalem. Asking them to stay in the city for the duration of the repair was a big request. It meant their farms would go unattended and their businesses would be affected. But they agreed to make the sacrifice because they wanted to fulfill Nehemiah’s vision and rebuild the city of their ancestors. Nehemiah was also making many sacrifices. In verse 23, Nehemiah says, “Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.”
When faced with challenging circumstances to implement a vision, effective leaders adapt and improvise. They do not allow the circumstance to dictate their response. Instead, they create strategic plans to help them manage the situation effectively. Nehemiah demonstrates poise and sagaciousness in dealing with the enemies of the Jews. The steps he proposed for ensuring that the repairs continue are not reactive but proactive.
Nehemiah’s five-step approach demonstrates that he was more concerned about the success of the repair and the welfare of the people of Jerusalem than the defeat of his enemies. His goal was not to prove that he could challenge his enemies, but that he could complete the charge given to him by God and sponsored by the king of Babylon. The strategic plan was focused on the safety and the security of the builders as well as ensuring the completion of the work. As an effective leader, Nehemiah did not ask the people to do what he was not willing to do. While the laborers were working, Nehemiah stayed up day and night with his weapon at the ready to protect the people. Effective leaders have a burden for the well-being of those they lead. They tend to be more concerned about the people in their organization than the performance of that organization. They prioritize people over profit.
Nehemiah’s strategic plan was both short term and long term. In the short term, it was intended to protect the laborers and the rest of the people in Jerusalem. Nehemiah wanted the enemies of the people to know they were not going to be pushed around without a fight. He was making a statement as to his commitment to the vision and his readiness to fight for the vision. In the long term, he wanted to instill confidence in the people that they can do anything they set their minds to by the power of the God of their ancestors. The people in Jerusalem needed the confidence to stand up for their culture and their faith. Nehemiah gave them that courage and the confidence to move forward in repairing the walls of the city.
Effective leaders see possibilities while others see frailties. They help the people they lead to see in themselves potentials that have been dormant for a while. The last time the Jews thought about repair the broken walls, they gave up as soon as their enemies threatened to destroy them. However, this time, they had a leader who not only believed that they could meet the challenge but was also willing to die for his support of the vision. It makes a difference when a leader is fully committed to the vision and to the people who are implementing the vision.
Blessed Lord, please give us the heart of an effective leader so we can demonstrate compassion and concern for those we lead.