Prompted by a recent talk from Dave Engbrecht, I came across a short phrase in the early parts of Proverbs 31, a section of Scripture often associated with women, that caught my attention. King Lemuel is warning his princely son of the common temptations that face kings (and really all men and women) in life. Lemuel says a few times, “It is not for kings…” as he then exhorts his son on what not to do when in leadership.
In our culture of informality, our eschewing of top/down structures, and our youth-full focus, I think we’ve lost a bit of this language when it comes to leadership qualities. We don’t talk much of giving up our rights for the sake of others, of doing the right thing, even though most leaders understand these necessary aspects of leadership. In our tolerant age, we don’t often sit around to discuss, “It is not for leaders to …” as we talk of high character and other leadership qualities. During election years we see it most often, but we talk about how ‘presidential’ candidates are when they campaign or talk.
We Want Leaders to be Noble
I describe the ‘presidential’ measurement as a form of nobility. Merriam-Webster defines nobility as “possessing outstanding qualities” and “characterized by, or arising from superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals.” The presidential campaign process surfaces our primary desires for our leaders – and it tops personality or authority on the list. It’s often why we’re disappointed with candidates who seem to say or do whatever it takes to be elected and why we memorialize those presidents who seemed noble, who had that special speech where they had to stand up for a noble principle, or they helped the country navigate a difficult period.
Think of many of our culture’s ‘heroes’ and see how they compare to what you think of regarding nobility. Think of leaders you know or have seen who do exemplify those traits. Consider your position of influence. What does ‘being noble’ look like? What should it look like?
Back to Lemuel: So the King told his son (and readers) that some things may be acceptable, but are not best for kings. He points to various temptations that can lead away from nobility and detract from people’s opinions of character and wisdom. Now, before you call me old-fashioned and out of touch (and first think about why nobility would be old-fashioned … and if that’s a good thing), I bet you have a list of your own proverbs that would complete “It is not for leaders to ______ .”
I don’t want to fill in that blank for you. That’s not my job. But, leadership is more than a title or opportunity to be in charge, but it’s a noble task. Any task you do that shapes others is a noble responsibility and we (like it or not) lead for the sake of others. And, in that we have a responsibility to consider that “It is not for us to ______”.