President Obama's Oval Office seat has heated up considerably. He now faces an enormous test that will no doubt weigh heavily on whether or not he is reelected next year. But as the President is being tested, so is the man. While overseeing a country storming through a deep recession and a government deeply divided over issues such as tax increases, deficit reductions, and debt limits, Obama's character, creativity and capacities are going through a refiner's fire. For a president, this process is not lived out in secret, but on an incomparably visible stage. And he does not appear to be having nearly as much fun in the role as he was a year ago.
Obama is not alone in his testing. Leadership and conflict are virtually synonymous. In fact, the best definition I have ever heard of what leaders do came not from a U.S. president, but a seminary president, Dr. Robert E. Cooley: "A leader is someone who frames issues and engages conflicts." No doubt Obama has spent the last few weeks striving to do just that, to better "frame" the economic "issues" and to find manageable and agreeable ways to "engage" these "conflicts." Similar challenges, however, are faced every day by every leader, from modern presidents to ancient kings.
Of all the leaders studied and considered in history, none have been any more intriguing or inspiring than King David. The story of David and the Giant is a familiar one. It has often been the narrative-of-choice to inspire heroic and courageous action in the face of overwhelming odds. Upon closer look, however, it seems that David faced not just one, but three, giants. President Obama faces the same ones today, as does every other president, pastor, teacher, parent, businessperson and leader.
The First Giant Every Leader Must Face
The first giant David faced was also the most familiar one of the three—Goliath. In some way,s this giant may have been even a bigger threat than our current national debt and debt limit. This giant had Israel by the military jugular and her soldiers and king virtually seized with fear.
Goliath is the first giant a leader must face—Someone in Your Way. When someone is in your way and preventing you (or the organization or nation you represent) from moving forward, your leadership is tested, even challenged. When this occurs, a leader asks himself: What can I do? What are my options? When will this giant move out of my way? What is it going to take to get them to do so?
On the battlefield in Ancient Palestine, young David was the one and only person finally willing to engage the conflict named Goliath. For weeks David's older brothers had apparently just been sitting on the backlines with the other warriors, assessing the situation and hoping against hope that the giant would somehow just go away.
As a leader, how do you deal with Someone in Your Way?
Years ago, I found myself leading a church and pursuing a preferred vision when it became clear to me that there was someone in the way,an influential leader on our team unquestionably dragging his heels against the process. After a few months of trying to persuade, convince, be patient with and endure the detractor's obvious resistances, I finally asked a friend to pray with me. My request? "Pray that God will move this person to another church."
My friend did pray for me, but what he said to me afterwards caught me by surprise.
I asked him, "Do you sense that God is going to move this person along?"
"No," he responded. "Actually, I sensed something quite different."
"What's that?" I asked.
"I believe God has allowed this difficult person to be in your congregation for a purpose."
"What possible kind of 'purpose' might that be?" I asked.
"To strengthen your leadership muscle, to help you stand up confidently and engage the
Awwwwwww, nooo, I thought. That is not what I wanted to hear; not at all.
In the long run, however, it proved to be exactly the test my leadership needed.
Was it a fun season? No.
Was it a time of growth for me as a leader? Unquestionably.
The Second Giant A Leader Must Face
The second giant David faced was King Saul, his leader. You may remember Saul as the first king of Israel, a notorious and paranoid king absolutely threatened by the younger David's kingly potential. In Saul's earlier years, however, he was a different person; impressive, partnered with God's prophet (Samuel), and at times even full of the Spirit of God. For a while, he was God's anointed king, until the power of his "presidency" enlarged his head and shrunk his heart. The role and responsibility of the king eventually outgrew the man. His conflict outgrew his character and capacity to lead.