Three Great Leadership Lessons From King David

King David was an extraordinary leader. Here are three lessons about his leadership approach from a single reflective verse.

All of us who lead have a leadership philosophy. Sometimes we are cognitively aware of it and other times we are not. Regardless, we lead from an inner place where our motives, character, and beliefs reside. All leadership emanates from our core desires and becomes evident in our emotions, reasoning, and behavior.

King David was a leader worth emulating because he, more than any emperor led from the inside out and was noted on the outside as being a man with extraordinary leadership skill. After his death, this is how his leadership was summarized in Psalm 78:72

"With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand."

Here are three simple lessons about leadership from this single verse.


One | All leadership originates on the inside of a man.
Notice that before the Psalmist speaks of David's able leadership, he says that David led his people out of the overflow and integrity of his "upright heart." David understood that a leader's action and behavior are developed in private before they become public to others. And so our leadership is formed from our hidden convictions, beliefs, loyalties, and motives and exposed publically as we live them out, and this is where our integrity comes into play. When we lack consistency between the values we proclaim, our hearts true motive, and the way we lead, people recognize this lack of integrity as a definitive leadership weakness. And therein lies the first leadership lesson we learn from King David; our first arena of leadership responsibility is learning to lead self.

In addition, the best leaders cultivate a deep relationship with God and think deeply about who they are and what they believe. They know the difference between leadership by ambition and leadership by empowerment because they have become genuinely aware of their own motivations and the tensions between their purity and impurity. They aim for consistency in their inner lives that matches with the truth of God. I believe this is why David's is still known to be one of the great leaders of all time.

Two | Skillful leadership is a learned ability.
Great leaders not only develop their inner lives but they intentionally develop leadership skills. Without a "skillful hand," leaders can unintentionally hurt others and misdirect the organizations they lead. Many leaders assume because they have a passion to lead that they are qualified to lead - and this is inaccurate. While young leaders may have a few natural abilities such as marketing savvy, management insight, or financial wisdom a few natural abilities do not make a leader. I have found that most young leaders, while they need to be given opportunities to lead, overestimate their leadership ability and underestimate their leadership deficits and need for leadership experience. Unfortunately, this is something only understood over time and is the building of leadership muscle.

Intentional development of leadership skills is a lifelong endeavor. We will learn from others, learn from success, but most of all we'll learn from failure. Success causes us to believe in ourselves, whereas failure causes us to evaluate, grow, and change. Enjoy leadership success, but go to school on failure. David did!

Three | Leadership is not about being the boss.
Notice the Psalmist says that David "shepherded them." He understood that leadership is a stewardship and just as a shepherd was responsible for the welfare of his flock, so he was responsible for the welfare of his people. Too many leaders see their position as a place where they can meet their own personal aspirations rather than help others be successful and reach their aspirations. Leadership is not about us but about others: Always! And so shepherd, or steward, the opportunities God gives to you.

Lead on.

Vince Miller Founder of ResoluteVince Miller is a speaker, author, and mentor to men. He is an authentic and transparent leader who loves to communicate to audiences on the topics of mentorship, fathering, leadership and manhood. He has authored 13 books and small group curriculum for men and is the primary content creator of all Resolute materials. Contact Vince Miller here. His newest book is Thirty Virtues That Build A Man.