Barber fails to fall into the pitfall that many pastors fall into with respect to the book of Nehemiah. He does not see Nehemiah as an allegory of church building programs or an allegory of improvement of the soul. Instead, he takes the book at face value and sees the quite literal leadership style and characteristics of Nehemiah as something we can learn from. His insights into what makes a good leader are excellent and not your run-of-the-mill trendy stuff.
Barber comes to the discussion of leadership with a biblical worldview instead of the dominant secularist worldview. He is open to the lessons the Bible actually teaches rather than overlaying upon it what Harvard Business School or Madison Avenue might think. But that is not to say that Barber’s views are not practical. They are extremely practical and noteworthy.
Barber lays out the profile of Nehemiah verse by verse and then summarizes in the end the major conclusions that he has reached from the biblical example. Barber notes that an effective leader needs to have integrity. “He must possess a brightness of character and soundness of moral principles. He must know and stand for what is right—even in the face of popular disfavor.”
Barber notes that a good leader also needs conviction. He analyzes and shows that this conviction is founded on our faith in God and requires both confidence in ourselves and courage. Loyalty, stability, and concern for others are the other major characteristics that Barber identifies. Rounding out the characteristics of a good leader are discernment, motivation, and tact. But Barber does not see tact as the notion of telling people what they want to hear, but rather he notes that true tact must be founded upon truth.
Barber also analyzes the principles of sound leadership including knowledgeability, ability to maintain moral, and setting an example.
We also have some interesting observations along the way. For example he notes this about freedom: “Political freedom is based on spiritual freedom. When spiritual freedom is sacrificed through the toleration of evil, it inevitably results in oppression and the demise of moral standards. To counteract these trends, we need a return to the Word of God (see Nehemiah 8), then by submitting ourselves to it, and confessing our failures and shortcomings, we can begin to walk in a path of obedience, righteousness, and true holiness. Out of a spirit of genuine renewal, there comes a spiritual, social, and national freedom.”
In other passages that provide practical advice for leaders, Barber discusses how Nehemiah dealt with the task faced by middle managers—how to deal with criticism, how to deal with gossip, and how to deal with opposition from both within and without.
Nehemiah is a model leader and Barber has done a model job in expounding that model to us through his book, The Dynamics of Effective Leadership: Learning from Nehemiah.