[Solomon said:]”…give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”
1 Kings 3:9
Tuesday, 27 April 2021
John 10:11-18; 1 Kings 3:9
Everyone is a leader, at least in some part of their life. That at least is the claim many leadership gurus make. On my good days, I agree with them; on my more cynical days (some who know me might say most days), I tend to say that most people exercise power – often less than healthy power – over those beneath them.
Since our quote comes from the biblical King Solomon, I am going to look today at leadership, power and the need for good discernment, not least to distinguish leadership and power.
So what is power? It is literally the ability to influence and move things and people. It comes in different forms: hard power (coercion usually by force or threat); soft power (subtler than hard power, it often emphasises that interests coincide); smart power (the ability to make others do what you want by letting them think they thought of it).
Leadership, even leadership by example, inevitably involves the exercise of power. The kind of leadership I’ve talked about usually entails a mixture of soft and, above all, smart power. Though at times – expressed in the phrase ‘The buck stops here’ – hard power may be needed. But when should a leader exercise what form of power?
The problem is that leaders sometimes use the wrong kind of power, relying on hard power when soft or smart power is more appropriate, for example.
This is where discernment – a discerning heart, to use Solomon’s terms – comes into play. Discernment is the act of making choices, separating options and choosing what is best at a particular time. This involves careful thinking through options, judging what is most appropriate, and for religious people, prayer. Good discernment from a religious perspective starts with thinking through issues clearly in the presence of God, indeed praying for clarity of thought before one starts. Once a decision is made, hopefully after consulting others, it is common to pray for further clarity and confirmation of one’s decision.
For secular people, it probably means never rushing into decisions, especially those involving the exercise of hard power.
Ask yourself. How do I exercise power? If I see a pattern in this, ask myself why I do this? Does it really work? How does discernment help me as a leader?