When I hear the word “leadership,” I envision a teacher in front of the classroom, a coach directing practice, a quarterback rallying his team, a soldier leading an assault, a pastor teaching his people, a business owner building her company, or a president addressing a nation.
This is the public side of leadership. It is up front and vocal. But we must not forget the leader’s quiet work. Nehemiah demonstrated this quiet side of leadership. Studying his life we seven aspects of the leader’s work that must be done in stillness and silence:
- Discerning the call: “And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:12)1. How did Nehemiah hear God’s call? He was listening. The quiet work of leadership is listening for the whispers of God.
- Praying for favor: “As soon as I heard these words I lay down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, ‘O LORD … let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night.” (Nehemiah 1:4-6). The quiet work of leadership is prayer done in secret.2
- Waiting for the answer: Leaders have a bias for action. Sitting still is not in our DNA. Nehemiah was staring at broken walls, broken dreams, broken hearts, and a broken city. He wanted to GO, but he had to WAIT—for four long months! The quiet work of leadership is patiently waiting for God’s green light. (Nehemiah 2:1)
- “Sitting on it”: “Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. . . . And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told [them]“ (Nehemiah 2:12, 16). Leaders don’t release every detail and share every thought. They exercise the discipline to keep sensitive matters to themselves until the time is right. The quiet work of leadership is the discipline to “sit on it.”
- Planning the strategy: “The king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ … And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber…’” (Nehemiah 2:7-8). Nehemiah was able to give a specific answers to the king’s question because he was not flying by the seat of his pants. The quiet work of leadership includes carefully planning the strategy to accomplish the mission.
- Assessing the situation: “And I looked” (Nehemiah 4:14). Peruse the pages of Nehemiah and you will find that he was constantly assessing both the status of the task at hand and the health and safety of the people who were working at that task. The quiet work of leadership is assessing the health of the work and the workers, and then taking the appropriate action to ensure that needs are met.
- Listening to the people: “As soon as I heard these words”… “I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words” (Nehemiah 1:4; 5:6). Good leaders know facts are your friends. They also know that gathering facts means taking time to block out distractions and to listen. The quiet work of leadership is attentively listening to your people.
Make no doubt about, Nehemiah did the public work. He cast a compelling vision, he challenged the status quo, he rallied his team, and he battled his enemies, but it was his quiet work in private the paved the way for his public success.
Are you leaving enough time for the quiet work of leadership?
Question: Which of the 7 aspects of the Leader’s Quiet Work is the most challenging for you? What other aspects of the Leader’s Quiet Work can you think of? Share a comment by clicking here.
1 All Scripture passages are from the English Standard Version.
2But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6 ESV)