By William Rick Ezell
Nehemiah was a deported Jew living in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, as a servant to the king. He returned to Jerusalem to manage and lead a massive construction project to rebuild the city’s walls. Nehemiah’s story provides several biblical business management principles.
Prayer: Talk to God Frequently
Christian business people need to go to God before going to others. We get our orders and directions from him, in addition to our comfort and resolve. Time and time again Nehemiah prayed. He prayed for an opportunity to ask his boss, the king, to travel to Jerusalem to help rebuild the city walls. He prayed for protection from the onslaught of the enemies who constantly attempted to sabotage the progress. He prayed when conflict arose. He prayed when the project was completed as the people celebrated and worshipped God. His prayers were answered.
Purpose: Set Goals Clearly
Goals turn dreams into reality. Goals provide a specific target. In business our goals should align with our life’s mission, created high enough to ignite our spirit and inspire us to action. Life’s greatest satisfaction comes from attaining goals we once believed were beyond reach. Nehemiah’s noble goal—a near impossible aspiration—was to bring the people in Jerusalem to a deeper relationship with God while protecting them from outside forces. To accomplish that goal he had to repair the wall that surrounded the city. Rebuilding the wall was not his main goal; it was a strategic step in accomplishing his greater goal.
Planning: Think Strategically
Charles Kettering said, “I plan to spend the rest of my life in the future, so I want to know what it will be. That’s why I plan.” Henry Ford wrote, “If you don’t think about the future, you won’t have one.” A wise businessperson knows the value of planning. Nehemiah did. Before he left for Jerusalem, he knew he would need safe passage through foreign lands and timber to construct the gates; so he asked the king for it. When he arrived in Jerusalem, under the darkness of night, he rode around the city, inspecting the wall. Before he addressed the people, he formulated a strategy. Why? Planning provides direction, helps us to create rather than react, saves time, allows us to build on our strengths, reduces crises, and creates energy.
Pilot: Lead the Organization Deliberately
Little is accomplished in any organization without leadership. Nehemiah was a leader. Building the wall was a monumental task that required great leadership, management, and motivational skills. Nehemiah accomplished the impossible, rebuilding the wall in 52 days. Being an effective leader is neither easy nor accidental. Effective leaders are those rare individuals who know where they are going, can communicate that purpose to others, and foster the fires that bring others alongside them. Simply speaking, leadership is influence. People don’t follow programs. They follow leaders who inspire them.
Persuasion: Motivate Others Convincingly
Whatever you read or study about motivation, it comes down to pulling people in the direction you want them to move instead of pushing people in the direction you want them to go. Nehemiah took a rag-tag bunch of outcasts that had grown accustomed to living in the squalor of debris and motivated them to regain their sense of heritage and dignity.
How did he persuade the people? He began with an objective view of reality. He had observed and examined the situation and he called it as he saw it. He identified with the people. The broken down wall was no longer their problem; Nehemiah saw it as our problem. He emphasized the benefits of a rebuilt wall to them. The walls of Jerusalem were for protection. Without the walls around the city the inhabitants were defenseless and vulnerable to attack. As long as the walls lay in ruins, nothing stopped their enemies from threatening them. It was a life and death issue. Remember, people do things for their reasons, not our reasons.
Personnel: Staff Deliberately
Nehemiah could not accomplish such a monumental construction project alone. He needed help. A good business manager never works in a vacuum. The organization must be staffed to accomplish the goals. Assistance is needed—a team sharing a common vision and willing to work toward an organized objective. Nehemiah detailed a beautiful staffing description in chapter 3 of his journal. The chapter shows how a group working together can accomplish the impossible, how a team can outperform any one player. Nehemiah is not named in this chapter. The focus is on the people. Thirty-eight individual workers are named in this chapter and 42 different groups are identified. There were laborers of all kinds: priests, Levites, goldsmiths, merchants, officials, private individuals, masters, servants, men, and women. No expert wall builders, no carpenters, no brick masons can be found in the list. These were men and women working side by side in close proximity to their homes, building their assigned section. Teamwork makes the dream work. With the right placement of people in a project or organization, the collective whole maximizes strengths and minimizes weaknesses. The coordinated efforts of the workforce finished the wall without gaps.
Problems: Confront Conflict Tactfully
Lack of unity undermines success. To have a successful business, the employees must work together. Little is accomplished in life by one’s self. Little is accomplished without cooperation. Unity provides tremendous power and potential. The problem is people don’t always get along. Leaders can expect conflict. No amount of avoidance or preventative action can keep it from rearing its head.
A wise business manager knows how to reconcile conflict. Nehemiah felt the verbal attacks from without by the enemies and was met with outcries from within caused by wealthy Jews taxing the poor who were working to rebuild the wall. Nehemiah became angry over the injustice. He took time to cool off. He confronted the nobles. He demanded a change. He held them accountable. He required retribution. He dealt with the abuse head on. He knew the construction project’s success was dependent on the laborer’s harmony and unity.
Personality: Maintain Character Impeccably
Above all, Nehemiah was a person of character. He was the kind of person people wanted to follow. Christian business leaders are to maintain their integrity in every situation. Character is not something you have; it is something you are that inevitably shows itself in what you do. Character proclaims a loud message. Character counts. If character is lacking, leadership and management are jeopardized. While the other management principles are important, a business leader cannot stand for long without strong character. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man. His character determines the character of the organization.” Business management requires two ingredients: competence and character.
Nehemiah provides a fitting example to follow and insightful principles to practice. Lead like Nehemiah, and you will build your business by the Book.
William Rick Ezell is a freelance writer in Greer, South Carolina.
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