Four Essential Best Practices for Leaders (Post 3 of 4)

Best Practice Three: Leading with the “Both/And” in Mind

CEO Uzziah is blessed by God and becomes an exceptional leader. But this is not only because he followed the first two leadership principles. He also understood and applied a third principle—trusting God is not enough. We must also work to be excellent at what we do. This is the secret of the “both/and” and makes all work a spiritual endeavor. Only understanding this can energize a leader to lead well for the long haul.

We see this in how Uzziah developed and executed his strategic plan with excellence, resulting in God’s blessing and his success. Uzziah begins his tenure by conducting a SWOT analysis: he evaluated his nation’s (company’s) internal Strengths and Weaknesses, as well as its external Opportunities and Threats. This was hard work, but he understood the secret of the “both/and.” This becomes clear as Uzziah’s story unfolds.

 

His Hard Work to Achieve Strategic Objective One--A Strong External Position

As Uzziah evaluated his external position, he realized there were significant external threats that he must first address. If the nation were invaded and occupied by foreign powers, nothing else would matter, and he could not achieve any further strategic objectives. He first had to establish and maintain the nation’s security:

[Uzziah] went out and warred against the Philistines, and broke down the wall of Gath and the wall of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod; and he built cities in the area of Ashdod and among the Philistines [and] against the Arabians who lived in Gur-baal, and the Meunites. (vs. 6, 7).

This strategy was very well thought out and executed well. Uzziah developed a comprehensive plan to defend each of his borders. He realized that if he succeeded in defending against threats on three fronts but not on the fourth, it would not do much good. Therefore he defended his western front (Gath was the key city to the West), his eastern front (Ashdod was the key city in the East), his northern front (Jabnel was a key city to the North), and his southern front (Gur-baal was an important city to the South, as well as where the nomadic Arabians [the Meunites] lived).

This strategy was comprehensive. He developed a long-term plan to ensure early successes could be sustained.

Moreover, Uzziah had an army ready for battle. The total number of the heads of the households, of valiant warriors, was 2,600. Under their direction was an elite army of 307,500, who could wage war with great power to help the king against the enemy. (v. 11-13)

This strategy included developing the necessary human resources, technology, and infrastructure:

“[They] entered combat by divisions according to the number of their muster, prepared by Jeiel the scribe and Maaseiah the official, under the direction of Hananiah, one of the king’s officers Moreover, Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, body armor, bows and sling stones.  In Jerusalem he made engines of war invented by skillful men to be on the towers and on the corners for the purpose of shooting arrows and great stones. (vs. 13-15)

I’m sure it was not easy for Uzziah to plan in such detail. Nor was all the work to put this structure in place a glamorous task. However, these were necessary tasks and Uzziah completed them with excellence.

As a result of developing a well thought out strategic plan and executing it well, Uzziah obtained his objective: “The Ammonites also gave tribute to Uzziah, and his fame extended to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong…his fame spread afar...” (vs. 8, 15)

 

His Hard Work to Achieve Strategic Objective Two--A Vibrant National Infrastructure

Uzziah’s SWOT analysis also revealed that a significant weakness of the nation was its infrastructure—in the capital city, in the outlying regions, and in the sustainability of its resources. Therefore Uzziah was equally strategic in developing and executing a plan to deal with these weaknesses:

Moreover, Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and at the Valley Gate and at the corner buttress and fortified them. He built towers in the wilderness and hewed many cisterns, for he had much livestock, both in the lowland and in the plain. He also had plowmen and vinedressers in the hill country and the fertile fields, for he loved the soil. (v. 9, 10)

In his capital city (Jerusalem) he made significant capital investments in important elements of the infrastructure: the Corner Gate (on the northeast side), the Valley Gate (on the southwest side) and the Angle of the Wall (the eastern side of the city). He did the same outside the capital city (“in the wilderness” v. 10) through building projects and developing water collection and distribution centers (the cisterns of v. 10). Notice how careful he was to not overlook any aspect of the internal infrastructure needed for the nation to flourish. This, too, led to his success as King.

 

The “Both/And” Principle Underlying Uzziah’s Success

We can’t read this story and say Uzziah’s success was simply because he trusted God. In other words, Principle Three is a necessary corollary to Principle One.  In addition to trusting God, Uzziah also worked extremely hard to be excellent in his leadership responsibilities of planning and execution.

Sometimes Christians see this as an “either/or” proposition: either I trust God, or I work hard myself. Either it is all me, or I “let go and let God.” This attitude is so prevalent that the famous French novelist Albert Camus uses it as important storyline in The Plague: Either pray that God will supernaturally intervene to save people from the plague, or get to work trying to save people yourself.

But this is not the biblical model. Scripture teaches the “both/and” model: I work extremely hard to be excellent at what I do, and God blesses my efforts to make me successful. In Uzziah’s case, he worked extremely hard to develop and execute his plan, and “God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians who lived in Gur-baal, and the Meunites.” (v. 7), summarizing that “he was marvelously helped until he was strong.” (v. 15)

This principle is echoed in Philippians 2:12: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Here Paul is discussing how to grow as believers—how we can develop, or “work out” the salvation we have in Christ. The Greek word used here for “work” implies strenuous effort—we are to give it all we’ve got! But at the same time, it is God who is at work to accomplish this end. It is a both/and.

Getting up a ski hill provides a helpful analogy. One option is to walk up the hill completely on one's own effort. This is a case of “all you”—and is not what God has in mind in the Christian life. Another option is to take a chairlift. In this case, you get up the hill by no effort of your own, but only by the power of the engine driving the lift. This is not what God has in mind for the Christian life either. Rather, the rope tow is the analogy to what God is saying here. To get up the hill by a rope tow you have to work very hard. You have to carefully increase pressure on the rope until it begins to pull you up the hill, and then continually balance in the right position, maintaining the right pressure on the rope, and continually being aware of your surroundings—your “current reality.” Yet at the same time it is the energy in the rope that is equally the cause of you getting to the top of the hill. This is the both/and principle Paul is getting at in Philippians 2:12 which Uzziah models—fully your effort, as well as fully God’s grace, united to reach the end you and He are working toward.

 

Understanding This Reminds Us That Our Work is Sacred

Since God expects us to put a great deal of energy into being excellent in our work, and ties His blessing to our faithfulness to this call, it follows that no work is “secular.” All work is “sacred.” This is a central theme of Scripture, modeled here in the life and work if Uzziah. Yet believers often forget this truth. A major aspect of the Reformation project was recapturing this idea of all work being Holy, rather than the idea of “Christian” work (the work of pastors and missionaries) and “secular” work (the work of everyone else). When we divide work into these categories, we adopt an unbiblical and artificial bifurcation.

Furthermore, when we divide work into “secular” and “sacred” we reduce our work to just a “job we do,” telling ourselves it has no inherent value or sacredness. With this mindset it is easy for our motivation to evaporate, especially over the long haul. Rather, we need to remember the theologically accurate and rich definition of work (or “vocation”) given by the Puritan pastor William Perkins: Work is “A certain kind of life, ordered and imposed on man by God for the common good.” Our work (“a certain kind of life”) is valuable, because it has been given to us by God (because it is sacred), and as we are faithful this results in promoting the common good.

This is exactly what we see in the leadership of Uzziah. He was called to the specific role of leadership. It was God who called him. And as he was excellent at this work it led to the good of all under his leadership.

 

Conclusion

CEO Uzziah was successful because he realized God’s blessing was deeply united with his hard work to be excellent in his leadership responsibilities. We must also remember this principle of the “both/and” to be excellent leaders. If we divide our spiritual lives and our professional lives, both will suffer. If we keep the two united, we can sustain many years of leadership excellence, because we will see our work as a holy calling.

Yet there is one final lesson we can learn from Uzziah. It is one he forgot once he achieved success, and his forgetfulness led to his downfall. I’ll discuss that next week.

Until then, grace and peace.

 

For further reading I suggest:

Andy Crouch, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, for a more focused discussion of the role of power and how we as Christians should use it for the good of others

My earlier blog post on being an “Artist” in our work as a way to seek the common good through our vocations

Michael Lindsey, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite for examples of how Christians have united hard work and faith in business, higher education, government, the arts and media