The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#6 – Lessons from a Failed King

So many leadership lessons can be learned from the life of King Saul; unfortunately, most of them are from his failures and mistakes. He was head and shoulders above all others. Chosen by God and wanted by the people, and yet he was a colossal failure as a leader. When it came to his public coronation as the first king of Israel, he was found hiding in the luggage of the nation who had gathered together to honor and support him. On first glance you might assume that was extreme humility. And yet when we shrink from what God has called us to do, hiding is not humility but rather fear or disobedience.

Saul lacked patience and offered a sacrifice rather than waiting for the prophet Samuel to arrive, thus disobeying the Lord. Later he was to destroy the Amalekites. Rather than doing so, he kept the King alive and saved some of the spoils that were to be destroyed. The story is told in 1 Samuel 15. In spite of his disobedience, Saul built a monument to himself. When the prophet Samuel confronted King Saul with his disobedience to God, Saul was quick to blame the people.

Ryan, leaders have to take extreme ownership of their failures and resist the temptation to blame it on others. The blame game is an old one that dates back to the Garden. The blame game does not work, because God is never fooled and most people can see right through it. When leaders own their failures and mistakes, they are ready to grow and lead with more credibility.

Another lesson came as Samuel related to Saul the words of the Lord in 1 Samuel 15:17, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you the king over Israel. The Lord sent you on a mission.” Again “little in your own eyes” may seem like humility, but when we focus on how we see ourselves rather than how God sees us, we have lost focus and perspective.

We must see ourselves from the perspective of God’s calling on our lives and step up to the task and the mission he has called us to do. Otherwise we will constantly be focusing on our limitations rather than the presence and power of God. Viewing ourselves the way God views us should never lead us to pride, but rather to gratitude and dependence.

When our identity is found in him we should never feel offended because we have no rights. We should never be afraid of failure because our identity is based on Him and not our performance.

Finally, Saul comes clean and admits he sinned by disobeying God. We can learn a lot from the reason he gave for disobeying, “I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” This is a temptation that is common to every spiritual leader. We want to please people and yet we must please the One who has called us and placed us in a position to lead, no matter the cost.

Saul looked the part of a leader but that could not make him one. Spiritual leadership involves building legacies for God in the lives of people rather than building monuments to ourselves. Spiritual leadership involves stepping up to what God has called us to do. Spiritual leadership involves taking extreme ownership for our sins and failures before God and the people he has called us to lead. Spiritual leadership involves having a deep reverence for God that delivers us from the fear of people.

Ryan, let’s pray that God would help us to learn these lessons so that we can be the leaders that He wants us to be.