If you have ever been in a leadership position for any length of time, you have to figure out what your team members are really doing. And if you are the leader of a large organization, you end up relying on middle management and thus lose a feel for what the members are really thinking.

One thing I have learned as a leader is that sometimes your followers, your teammates, are smarter than you. They ask the right questions: “Hey, we always did it this way; wouldn’t it be better if we do it that way?” And if you’re a smart leader, you accept the question openly and either try a new way which turns out way better, or explain honestly why the tried and true way is the best. The worst answer is to shut him down.

Sometimes your followers are actually right, and you’re wrong.

Take the story of David and Bathsheba. Everyone knows that story – sleeping with another man’s wife and then murdering him. But what people forget is that David was warned off. When David asked – “Hey, who’s that hot woman bathing?”, his servant said: That’s Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. (Emphasis added.) To use the 21st century vernacular: Dude, that’s no-go. Don’t even think about it, bro. She’s off limits. Unfortunately, David didn’t listen.

And sometimes, your followers are not quite there.

As I consider what else I can learn about leadership from the first chapter of the book of Joshua in the Old Testament, I realize that leaders often have complicated relationships with followers, especially when they are not 100% there.

Just as they are about to cross the Jordan River, Joshua addresses a specific group of Hebrews. These people have already settled on the east bank of the Jordan. In other words, they already got what was promised to them. They have no real reason to stick their necks out, except for solidarity with their fellow Hebrews. Nevertheless they go anyway.

Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

Joshua 1:12-18

Now, why did I say they’re not 100% there? Everyone should be happy! We got the manpower! What’s more, they’ll follow Joshua’s lead instead of doing their own thing. They are even extremely supportive, right?

There’s one word that captured my attention: “The Lord your God”.  

That’s right. Your God. Wait? Weren’t all the Hebrews monotheistic followers of YAHWEH? Shouldn’t it be The Lord OUR God?”

There are followers and then there are followers.  You go to any church and you will find the casual attendees and the hard core ones. The latter group are dedicated unpaid volunteers who attend weekly (absent circumstances) set up tables, lead small groups, bring food to potlucks, and serve as ushers. The first group: they’re just there.

And when you read on, the story of Israel is an endless cycle of success and failure because not everyone was fully on board. Joshua makes a sweeping confession that is found in many Christian households: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

You can’t say the same for the rest of the nation.

You know who else demonstrated his true character using the same phraseology “The Lord your God” and turned out to be a disaster?

King Saul. When the prophet Samuel asked him why Saul failed to obey God in completely destroying the Amalekites (I Sam 15), Saul tried to lie: “Hey, I saved them to sacrifice to the Lord your God.” Nice try, buddy. Samuel was not impressed and neither was God.

What am I trying to say? It can be tough being a leader if you realize that your team is not fully on board. You just have to do your best to lead by personal example. But when they are fully on board, when they are truly helpful, you can move mountains and conquer territories.

Just ask Joshua.

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