Be Inspired, Entrepreneurship

Leadership Principles: Lessons from the Book of Nehemiah

As you read this post, it is my hope that you will be inspired to approach your Bible study with newfound intention. In a world where answers to life’s challenges often appear to be difficult, remember that the Bible holds profound wisdom waiting to be unearthed. It has all the answers we need to navigate life. Since I kind of resumed a more deliberate approach to studying His Word, my eyes have been opened to a lot of truths and lessons. One of such is the leadership principles in the book of Nehemiah; it has only 13 chapters and it comes before the famous book of Esther in the Old Testament.

My mind was filled with a number of questions, such as, “How was he supposed to know?” “How did he know what to do?” “How did he stay so focused with all the outside distractions?”

My interest was piqued, so I looked up additional information about Nehemiah’s leadership style online. In my research, I came across a number of ideas that leaders may use to their advantage today, no matter where they are. Our own lives can also benefit from these leadership techniques as well.

1. Pray always and rely on God

It’s important to pray before taking any major action. It is so easy to rely on your own abilities especially in today’s fast paced world. The big question is, “Can you calmly wait on God for directions when your boss or the board of directors have given you a timeline for results?” You might say Nehemiah did not have to deal with this kind of pressure but having God in your boat will certainly yield results. God was already aware of the timeline before your bosses communicated it to you. Remember that! Consult with Him first before any other person.

Personally, it feels like you are inviting God on the journey with you, from ideation to implementation and finally to the review stage.

What are you crying about? What causes you so much pain?
Ask God for direction, it might be linked to your purpose and vision.

Chapter 1 starts with this; Nehemiah had news from Judah about its poor state of affairs (broken wall that had not been rebuilt in ages!) and he wept, fasted and prayed to God. He asked for forgiveness for himself and on behalf of the people. He also prayed for the grace of favour before approaching the King. Mind you, he was the King’s cupbearer meaning he was a high ranking official. He was living a comfortable life so what was his business inviting stress into his life? Why would he stress himself about his people back home who were living in disgrace with a broken wall?

A door is opened to present his request

In Chapter 2, you realise that Nehemiah did not immediately proceed to place his request before the King (he had prayed about it already). It happened this way, the King saw his downcast face and questioned him. He had prayed but still felt fear when in response to the King, he presented his request. Feeling fear after prayer is all part of the process, it does not mean God is not with you.

Nehemiah 2:4-6
4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” 6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

Even in the process of making his requests known to the King, he prayed and I can safely assume that this was a silent prayer because he was in the King’s presence. In the end, the King obliged to his many requests!

Lesson: Pray without ceasing and at every step of the journey. Find your prayer style and work with it! Trust God in the process and even when things do not go as planned, keep TRUSTING Him! His good plans for us are way bigger than we can humanly fathom.

2. Employ wisdom when communicating

Typical of us, we might have announced our intentions and all the assets and support we had received from the King before even setting foot in the town. At this point, small pride might sneak in and join us on our journey.

This is what happened.

Sanballat and Tobiah were already disturbed when they received hints of Nehemiah’s intentions (Chapter 2 verse 10). Even before you take the first obvious move, you may already be facing opposition. Wisdom in knowing when, how and whom to communicate your intentions and vision to is very important. Ask God for wisdom in this area.

He was in Jerusalem for 3 days and yet told no one of his intentions including the people he was going to need to work with to get the wall rebuilt. Imagine! 3 days of patience! During the evening, he proceeded to conduct independent assessments of the wall’s damage. It was only following this assessment that he conveyed the purpose behind his decision to return home. He had a firsthand view of things before any formal communication started.

Nehemiah 2:17-18
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

Sanballat and Tobiah turned their initial disturbance into mockery and ridicule. Nehemiah responded to them with this, “The God of Heaven will give us success!” and not “I have performed my assessments and based on my expertise, this would be achieved.” Their ridicule turned to anger and even more ridicule. There are interested observers who are happy with no progress so be careful but in the process, do not limit yourself, keep moving!

Lesson: Don’t be too quick to announce your intentions without applying your God-given wisdom and developing your own perspective first.

3. Listen attentively and be adaptable

Practise active listening as a leader and be ready to make necessary changes even if your plans are already well laid out. Imagine the growth of technology worldwide and as a leader, you are stuck with outdated plans just because you are not listening to your team. You listen for a fair assessment to determine where relevant changes to existing plans are needed. The plus is, the team will feel seen and heard.

Nehemiah 4:10-13
10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” 11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” 12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” 13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.

He received updates about the strength of the workers and plans of the enemies to attack and stir up trouble, from the neighbouring Jews. He didn’t put a stop to the work but rather utilised the information received to adjust the plans to make them more robust and achievable. God does his part and you also have the opportunity to do your part.

Lesson: A leader does not have all the answers to a problem, listening to the team is also part of leadership!

4. Your plans are as good as the people you work with (Build the right team)

After making changes, he motivated the people and encouraged them not to be afraid. He was also involved in the work and made sure everyone understood what they had to do. We do not find him seated on the high and mighty chair and barking out orders, he dirtied his hands too!

Nehemiah 4:20-21
20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” 21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out.

He was firm and fair too! (Spend some time to read Chapter 5).

When the wall was completed in 52 days!, he appointed men of integrity and those who feared God the most to be in charge of the affairs of the wall.

It’s difficult to go far with integrity in today’s world, but don’t give up just yet because opportunities and rewards are on their way.

Lesson: Yes! You hold the position of authority and lead a team, but learn to embrace the role of a servant leader as well.

5. Stay focused and be discerning

They were making significant progress with the wall but their enemies including Sanballat and Tobiah did not give up and go to bed. As they worked, their enemies also intensified their efforts! They organised meetings and resorted to sending threatening letters, creating a tactic that could easily lure someone into distractions while trying to justify their actions.

With all these distractions, he forged on with the project and prayed. The most scary part for me was Chapter 6:10-13. They went to the extent of using trusted people to get Nehemiah to fall in the hope of ultimately halting the work that was going on.

Nehemiah 6:10-13
10 One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.” 11 But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” 12 I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.

And Nehemiah discerned

Those days, there were no phones so it is really easy to believe that someone who was always indoors had genuine concern for you. If you are told that people want to kill you and it appears that they want to help you out by taking you to the house of God, to be specific inside the temple for protection. I guess like me, we might easily fall for it! Further reading underscored the truth that, knowledge is indeed power! I discovered that it was a sin to go inside the temple if you were not part of those who had the assigned rights.

If they can’t stop him, they would go to far lengths to mess him up before the men he was leading and God. He was just the project manager but look at the opposition! He was not even planning to impose himself as King on them. We seriously need to pray for discernment every single day of our lives.

Lesson: There will be a lot of distractions but the skill of staying focused and discerning which ideas or suggestions are needed is necessary. Keep building your knowledge, there is a lot we do not know! Ignorance can be a big problem for a leader.

6. Worship and celebrate

Do not forget to give thanks to God after chalking any success. In Chapter 8, the laws were read to the people and they made sure everyone had a good understanding. There was a team celebration and not a sod cutting ceremony with mighty speeches on an adorned podium from Nehemiah. We do not find Nehemiah praising himself, it was a shared victory with God’s blessings.

Nehemiah 8:12 and 15
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. 
15 and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written.

The people confessed their sins. He did all this so the people could learn from the past and not repeat the past mistakes.

And they made a new covenant with God.

Nehemiah was a selfless leader and always found ways to support the poor.

Lesson: Acknowledge team successes and create a culture of debriefing after achieving milestones. To debrief is not an attacking ceremony but the creation of a tradition of not repeating past mistakes and wasting resources. It is part of the process of achieving growth.

7. Put controls in place

I came across controls in my Business Management class back in Wesley Girls’. It was one of the 5 functions of management, if my recollection is accurate. It involves putting monitoring and regulating mechanisms in place to ensure there are no deviations from the set standards and if there are any, corrective actions can be taken where necessary.

Nehemiah had completed what he came to do, he could have easily returned with that feat to his place of comfort, being the cupbearer to the King. He requested for permission to return to assess how well everything was going in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 13:6-7
6 But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission 7 and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God.

He had to take firm decisions to put things back into the way they were supposed to work. You would think, these are people who saw the struggle and I was with them on the ground. These are the people who wept and cried to God and so soon some of them have forgotten their covenant. It happens! It does not make you a bad leader.

In the last chapter, Nehemiah gives an account to God and of course he prayed! When situations become messy, it does not mean God has abandoned you. Learn to pray for strength and wisdom to navigate and go through the situation.

Lesson: Your hands are full but make time to check in on how successful projects are running. Are they on or off course? Take action where necessary!

Have you been inspired to study the book of Nehemiah? I would love to know what other pointers you discovered.

Lots of love,

Join OMT’s Telegram channel or connect via