Dear Business Leader, Get Over Your Title: Lessons from King David

A leadership piece inspired by the story of the historical leader, King David. There are many sources you can refer to for the story of this popular historic figure. This BBC page is only one of many.

According to ancient scripts, David was the last child in a large family of many brothers. Before he was appointed king of his land, his duties included tending to his father’s sheep out in the wild. His helpless animals totally depended on him for protection and for direction.

Through divine ordination, a certain prophet was sent to the house of Jesse (David’s father) to appoint the next king (David) because the king (Saul) had become disobedient to God. The period between David’s appointment and his actual crowning as king was not a bed of roses. He was hunted and persecuted by a leader who was losing popularity and was afraid of losing his position to someone younger, more capable and popular than himself.

When the neighboring Philistines, with a giant soldier in their army, attacked Israel, David valiantly slayed the giant every other soldier was afraid to fight. The audacity to use his trusted sling and stone against an armed giant, his willingness to fight where everyone else was afraid, and his unshakable confidence in his God and past experiences of fighting animals in the wild, all pointed to a man who was qualified to be a leader yet without the title. His popularity grew with the people of the land and eventually, when King Saul died at war, David was crowned the new leader.

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In the past, when reading the story of David’s ascension to the throne, it always seemed like a story of a great shepherd being removed from his lowly position of tending sheep and being promoted to kingship. That is until I recapped the story some time ago and realized something simple, yet profound: although David was appointed king, he never stopped being a shepherd.

It dawned on me that David was never removed from his position of shepherd, but was promoted to a higher level of the same role. The people of the land were unruly and in desperate need of direction. Only a qualified shepherd could guide them with the skill and heart David cultivated as a shepherd in the wild.

In story-books and some films, shepherds are depicted as gentle, meek and mild. However, shepherding, like leadership of any kind, is a position that requires a heart that cares and a tenacious warrior-like spirit.

Going back to the story of King David, the title of ‘King‘ was for the benefit of the people of the land, for that is what they had demanded from their God. They wanted to be ruled by a king just like the neighboring nations. ‘Shepherd‘ was the actual job description of the King.

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Kind David’s tenure was a mixture of successes and failures. Like many leaders he accomplished much but not without some grave mistakes. But all in all, history recognizes this king as one of the greatest who ever lived. And because of his willingness to accept correction and submit to the authority of the God who ordained him, history books record that David was “a man after God’s own heart.”

Here are a few lessons on leadership we can learn from the story of this ancient king:

  • We become who we are. Our strengths and capabilities are unleashed layer-by-layer as we change and grow through experience. Rarely are we promoted and successfully occupy a position we are not prepared for in mind or character. As a man thinketh so is he. We are leaders long before becoming leaders. Our experiences are our training ground for excellence.
  • Never take your current position lightly, for it is your training ground for the promotion you desire. Had David not been an excellent shepherd he would not have made an excellent king.
  • Only in a non-progressive organization does one get promoted for the title without proving their capability and competence. David’s ability to protect his father’s flock from wild animals as well as his willingness to fight a giant on behalf of his people proved he had the heart, mind and spirit of a leader.
  • As a leader, your title is more for the benefit of the people that they may recognize your authority so you can effectively fulfill your purpose. It’s easy to get hang-up on big titles and completely forget that the title comes with the mammoth responsibility of actually being influential and competent.
  • Sometimes, although you may be ready to be a leader, your place of leadership is not ready for you and you need to be patient in the process of your promotion.
  • The process of your promotion may not always be a walk in the pack. It may come with challenges and persecution but only your resilience during this period will help you attain your desired promotion. Don’t give up.
  • Yes, titles are important and they carry clout. But the clout lends credence to your posture of authority. “Do you know who I am?!” may have got temporary obedience but it has never earned anyone long-term respect.
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Get over your title and get the job done. Only in getting the job done does reward and further promotion, comes.


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