If you want to know what a leader is made of, watch how he or she responds under pressure. If you want to know what you’re made of, run the same test on yourself. Pressure reveals whether we lead through intimidation or inspiration. Fear is the currency of intimidation whereas inspiration trades in grace.
We see the choice between intimidation and inspiration play out in the life of a young Old Testament King named Rehoboam. Rehoboam’s dad was a guy named Solomon who was a political rock star in Israel. Solomon ushered in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity all the while establishing a reputation for wisdom that earned him a huge personal fortune and international acclaim. But Solomon had a little problem with women that led him down a path to the place where Scripture records, “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not follow the Lord fully.” (1Kings 11:6) As a result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God raised up military and political adversaries to oppose his rule.
With all of that going on, Solomon died and his son Rehoboam ascended to a now weakened throne. To make matters worse, the people of Israel, led by one of Rehoboam’s rivals, come and ask him to “lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke.” (1 Kings 12:4) They want him to ease up a bit and in return, they promise to follow him. The elders of Israel tell Solomon to take the deal. But rather than listen to them, he follows the advice of his boyhood friends who tell him to crack down. His response is stunning, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! (Yes, that means what you think it does!) Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.“(1 Kings 12:10(b)-11)
Rehoboam goes all in on intimidation – do what I say or face my wrath! Rehoboam is under pressure, he doesn’t want to show weakness in front of his rivals and he’s afraid. So he lashes out in pretty spectacular fashion. I bet you know leaders who make the same mistake today just in subtler forms: an angry rebuke, cold disapproval, a nasty email, publicly embarrassing employees, firing rivals or belittling someone’s ideas.
If that’s your leadership style, head the warning of Rehoboam. Intimidation always implodes! The people rebel against Rehoboam and Israel splits into two divided kingdoms. True, You might not start a civil war but your employees will leave, your teams will lack volunteers and people won’t go the extra mile for you.
Imagine how much better things would have gone if Rehoboam had gone with inspiration. He might well have exceeded the greatness of his father. He certainly would have been more in line with the heart of God.
Think about Jesus’ leadership. He consistently leads with inspiration. He calls people to live for a greater mission. (Luke 5:10) He patiently teaches His frequently clueless followers. (Mt. 13:36) He restores those who betray Him. (John 21:19). He didn’t see it as a sign of weakness to offer rest to weary souls. (Mt. 11:28) He deals in grace. And His followers changed the world. They were willing to sacrifice everything, including their lives, to advance His kingdom. Inspiration works!
Don’t fall for the trap of intimidation. It’s just self-destruction in disguise.
If you chose the path of inspiration and grace, you’re demonstrating the beauty of God and His gospel to the world. Don’t lead with inspiration simply because it works. Do it as a reflection of how God has dealt with you. He meets our rebellion with grace. He calms our fears with mercy. He empowers us to do what we could never imagine.
Our job as leaders is to treat our people the way God has treated us.