Nebuchadnezzar and [un]Humble Leadership

Humble leadership is the best.

It doesn’t matter if you follow Christ or are an atheist.

Humble leadership works best.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, explained that his study of top rated corporations showed humility and an attitude of service by corporate CEOs were important components of the company’s successful productivity. What he called, the “level 5 leader” was “an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”[1]

Collins noted that they are generally very driven and visionary. BUT, they are also humble. That, it seems, is an unusual combination.

Collins was writing to the general business world. . . not Christian leadership. And yet, this kind of leadership is exactly what we find taught in Scripture.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Folly

Recently, I was reading in Daniel and came across this helpful passage for those who want to lead well:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 4:28-33

Prior to this event, the king had a dream that was interpreted by Daniel, a servant (though high-ranking) in the king’s house. Daniel did not want to share the interpretation with King Nebuchadnezzar as it was not good news and that could be dangerous for him as a servant.

Daniel warned that the King would be made to be like a beast in the field though at the time he was exceedingly powerful.

Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

Daniel 4:27 (ESV)

Over the next year, the King apparently refused these prophetic words from Daniel. He began to see his power as his own…having come from his own hands. Maybe he saw his giftedness as a leader and became intoxicated by it. Maybe he saw that whatever he commanded to be done was done by others and became toxic in his entitlement.

So, rather than seeing all that he had as a gift, he stood arrogantly over his minions and proclaimed his power and majesty.

Believe Their Own Press

I saw this kind of transformation of missionaries in African nations where they were shown such deference by the nationals that over time they took for granted they were as great as they thought. They began more and more believing their own press. And they began “lording it over” the nationals just as Jesus warned His disciples not to do [Mark 10:42].

What I want readers to see is that these kinds of [un]humble leaders never end well. That might be hyperbole but, in my own research and experience, it has been consistent. Whether it is their ministry being stripped from them or an early death or catostrophic moral failure. It does not end well for them or their ministry.

It may take time for the arrogance and entitlement of leaders to catch up with them, but it is only a sign that the Lord is very patient and longsuffering.

We have seen multitudes of Christian, business, and political leaders fall in the past few years. Nearly every one can be described as narcissistic, arrogant, abusive, and/or criminal.

What is the solution?

Humility.

At the end of King Nebuchadnezzar’s fall from leadership he said the following:

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever…

Daniel 4:34

The king looked up. He recognized his lowly place despite likely being treated as the king of the world. He saw that the Lord is enthroned above him and rules over him and gave him all that he had.

Humility.

Humble leadership is the best.


[1] James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap–and Others Don’t, 1st edition (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 21.

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