Uncategorized

April 7, 2014

Moral Leadership: Lessons from Naaman and the Little Maid

More articles by »
Written by: Duane Covrig
Tags: , ,
Moral Leadership

My favorite Biblical passage on general and moral leadership is 2 Kings 5: the story of Naaman’s healing.I would urge you to read  more about  leadership. Although the major theme of the story is on Naaman and Elisha,  it includes an amazing array of other moral leaders that played  important roles in this passage. The most critical being the little maid. Also, the passage  gave  few illustrations of what  leaders should not do. For example, the act of cowardice by the king of Israel and Gehazi.

Furthermore, the story talked about the qualities of a good leader. In the story, good moral leadership qualities are  of two types. To begin with, is the moral leadership influence that comes from those like Naaman who have moral influence from official places of power  and high visibility. The second moral leadership was by  the little maid. This probably is the strongest in this passage, but has the weakest power base.

Naaman was a Syrian general who had  conquered a large area of his  world. He had been successful in his campaigns over everything, including Israel. In the process, he captured a little girl who became the main example of moral leadership in this story as she influenced others despite her “low estate.” The foreigner – i.e the captured little girl who is insignificant in so many ways, but big in the ones that count was Naaman’s wife’s maid.  Al though, the little girl’s name was not mentioned in the story, she was able to influence others. This shows that  powerful moral influence is possible without status or much talk. In this single passage, we have two concepts – a “great man” view of leadership and the influence theory of leadership. Naaman and the unnamed little maid demonstrated both concepts.

My colleague David Ferguson talks about Leadership in two forms, a Capital “L” form and a lower case “l” form. The capital L is when leadership comes packaged officially in an office. This involves the official recognition  coming from an officially powerful place or person of leadership. It is leadership with a “sign” clearly noting this person is the leader who should be watched and heeded.

In this passage, capital L examples are – in the office and work of the Syrian King, the war General, Naaman and the Prophet,  Elisha. They are  leaders  and generally accepted as authorities. Surprisingly, the prophetic office is the most socially constructed of the three  examples of capital “L” leadership. It requires a collaborative socially structured belief system to support it. There is a natural connecting role and link between the capital “L” and the lower case “l” leadership.This indicates a unique and delicate role of influence between the human and divine relationship of influence (more on that in later passages).

Lower case leadership shows up in many places in the story: the little maid, Naaman’s  wife, the messenger sent by Elisha and with several of Naaman’s personal servants. While all go unnamed (except for one lower case l leader who wanted to stand out and was put  down—Gehazi).In keeping with the lower case “l” leaders, they are unnamed, signifying the role of lowercase “l” leadership. . Lower case “l” leaders influence from a place of obscurity. As such, it requires a certain degree of highly courageous, politically savvy and interpersonal skills.

Equally, writers are examples of  silent leaders who are willing to track down the details of a story.  Their writings borne out of inspiration, influence  and motivate billions of people about  leadership. Thus, leadership exists  almost everywhere in the story. As noted in other posts, this is not surprising given both the complex nature of leadership and its deeply social and contextual nature [see part 2 of this post as well as earlier posts about leadership and management]. Leadership is about seeing and meeting a need.

The Capital L Leaders

Naaman had all the qualities  associated with official  leadership. He was “a great man and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram [Syria].  The man was also a valiant warrior.” He was  strong,  confident, accomplished, and pivotal to the success of the nation than any other citizen.  He was not only a Capital L, but an example of ALL CAPS, bold and underlined capital L at that. Naaman was a leader— both in  the human dimension and apparently in God’s eyes. Often the scholarly and academic leadership literature on this gets fickle, with a Jackal and Hyde approach. This tends to  worship the “great man” theory or run the opposite direction as suggesting only “democratic” leaders works. I believe neither approach captures full dynamic of leadership. It involves more than a great people doing magnificent things. This does not necessarily imply neglecting the role of reformers and change agents. There are many aggressive actors in human history that have helped us meet the social and environmental needs of this place called early.  Naaman was a powerful and foreboding figure of a man. He led an army of people who could get  and make things happened. This worked to influence people and create change in his region of the world. It shows some of the qualities of leadership.

Some wonder if God intended for this type of leadership to exist.Maybe not.From the beginning he created Adam and Eve as equals. He seems to have designed a mutually submissive and shared approach. This allowed a time differentiation (God first created man) but no differentiation of influence. That was the subtle message of the rib story. Here was a seamless following and leading in the intensive and intimate relationship of mutual interdependence. It was to show the function of the trinity (‘let us make them in OUR image’).  By listening to and helping each other they would have created a synergistic human family- an example of collaborative teamwork. In function and ability, the woman helped the man, in the sense that the man was given tasks by God, apparently beyond his ability to fulfill.

Thus, was the generative source of leadership: impossible work, but with help from others, you can do the work.

.

Each seems to slip out of the mutually influencing role. Adam refusing to caution his wife, and his wife willfully wandering from Adam’s and God’s command.Sin grew in such distortion of mutual responsibility and the human relationships as well as the divine relationships were broken. Sin did something that may have made Capital L leadership necessary I am not fully aware of what this entails. I am not sure if many of the theologians talking about women’s ordination have figured it out as well.  However, something happened that distorted not only marriage but leadership, not only mutuality in human relationships but also in the political structures of society. How permanent or necessary this was is unclear to me.Once sin came in, there was some deployment of hierarchy, partly as a tool to get man to lead, and partly as way to organize wandering followers (which in this case Eve had become). If this story disturbs feminist, it should, it shows how complex sin can become to human relationships. In my view, this could  account for  why feminist like Delaney underestimate the type of sacrifice needed to bring cataclysmic restoration to this debilitating process. Only the Cross, where the real leaders  gave his life, seems to reset this equality. But I digress).

There exist a  hierarchy that seems essential in restoring and maintaining the moral order in Paul’s day. “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (Romans 13: 3-5).

One of the first statements about moral leadership is that God uses “first class butt kicking” as Mark Gungor called it. This helps to keep the planet on its moral projector. Naaman was an agent God used to met out punishment, even on Israel.This concept is hard to hold in our mind. As we wrestle with the equal truth that God had a strong disregard for kingly powers like this. This is clear in 1 Samuel 8 and in his comments in Matthew 20:25 that it was not to be among.“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,  and whoever wishes to become the first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

All this gets factored into a complex understanding of God’s use of “power leaders” in the world and in the moral development of nations. A reading of Jeremiah 27 and Daniel 4 has convinced me that Nebuchadnezzar had many of the same qualities that Naaman had. God used both of them to bring swift justice to the region around Israel and to Israel In that justice, God was working through these warriors to do his will. However,  both warriors needed conversion, and  met God in different ways-   healing them of  leprosy (Naaman) and pride (Nebuchadnezzar).

In Jeremiah 27, Nebuchadnezzar got converted. He was an instrument of God for justice, change, improvement, and in punishing evil.  He was exacting great pain on Israel and in the cosmic scheme of God, preserving morality. This is the hard message to swallow.It is important to acknowledge that the sword of states are  in the moral leadership of Naaman, as abusive and chaotic as they seem.On a closer to home observation, I think this reminds us that there is a huge need for the powerful and confident and presidential, for those who use power.

Analyzing both the story of Naaman, and the  book of Daniel, reminds us that there are limits to this type of leadership. Moral leadership will be judged by God and history.And the limit on such moral leadership seems twofold: over the private right of judgment and in knowing solutions to significant problems. There is a blindness to even the most successful powerful leader that requires them to listen to the rest of us.Herein is the invitation to moral leadership for the rest of us: to step up, talk up, and be willing even to die for our convictions.

Leprosy was going to kill Naaman if he didn’t get help.The little maid could have kept quite, but she had better vision to help Naaman. Leadership is about helping others, even when the don’t deserve it.The little maid knew she was weak and powerless but she was convinced she had to speak up. She was wise to whisper her concern to someone with more power.“If only…..” as she smiled, “then….”That is all it took. Her suggestion became a command soon.The place for little “l” leaders was everywhere.

Both Daniel and the little maid  were not top dogs but they had a leadership role to plan.  They sought solutions even as captives in a system they did not create.This applies to those who feel like they are on the slave or servant end of a marriage, job, or position of lower management.It is one of those dichotomies. God is with many leaders, despite the fact that they have serious limitations. Mighty rulers, are at times obnoxious with appetites for power and fame, often are tools for Christ’s work.But if they don’t get reminded of their limits, He will personally do so.And it seems the only solution to their serious flaw is to listen to nobodies around them.That is the message of Daniel 4 when he interpreted the dream of the tree cut down:“Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, if it could prolong your prosperity.”

Strong language from lower case “l” leaders to Capital “L” leaders is  needed to listen . Daniel was a little bolder with King Nebuchadnezzar because he had risen to being a Capital “L” leader but was still someone under authority as the maid was. The maid was more subtle.I see in this story key aspects of leadership as the ability to command change, command people and make justice occur. This is leadership and to deny it or try to diminish it reject the two forms of leadership.

Capital L leadership typically changes and leads through structures it controls. Through the control of resources, the right and power to speak louder and more often, from the top down, and stays close to patterns of authority and power that advantage its orders and commands. (We seem to generally benefit from some of this influence. Jesus saw this would not work for the church so he didn’t want the gentle approach  adopted by his believers. That is why he said that to them. It is not to be the way among you. It is too dangerous of a way that kills truth.This is because Jesus knew the power of distributed leadership, lower case “l” leadership can accomplish more because it gets back to the Edenic pattern. It blends in, manifesting its influences in the cracks of daily life and quietly filling relationships gaps. It may be peer-to-peer, but often from the Bottom Up and the Inside Out.In an attempt not to dismiss the need for strong and official change agents, we also need to see in this passage a call to all to leadership.

Both are crucial to meeting the needs of a society.  Being a successful leader always requires acknowledging both and supporting the strong and official as well as the painfully shy types of leaders.A successful follower does not mean you cop-out of being a person of influence. And being a powerful leader does not mean you cop-out of listening. I guarantee every leader does not have all the cards in their hand to make change happen. We all have sin that will kill us if we don’t listen to advice around us. We all have little maids that are giving us warnings that we need to heed to succeed. We need someone who listens to us.

The deeper manifestations of leadership here is the thinking of the little maid.  She was able to handle two dichotomies: to recognize God’s work of reform that was allowing Naaman to overrun her town and kill her people and displace her prophet. And in the same mind, she believed that

despite this cruel reality, her prophet and her God, though apparently on the losing end of the battle, were in control at a deeper level. That was the level of service and humility

.In her own work of slavery, she saw a glimpse of the leadership of God and the prophet. They did not Lord it over, but were willing to lead from the bottom up, to even heal enemies.What a vision of greatness the little maid had.

This shows that lower case “l” leaders can be carriers of profound vision that even the statesmen and generals and warriors and captains can learn from. She loved her enemies and was trying to figure out how to get Naaman to the help he needed.The work to bring about something good for others, meeting needs, requires the kings, generals and prophets. It also requires the hard work, the bold talk, and the counsel of those in the cracks of the power hierarchy.I call this leadership doing something else for someone else .(See other posts) because it keeps focus on meeting needs even when official leaders may be distracted by power, greed, paranoia, sex or fame, or sin’s deeper diseases like paranoia and guilt.

She saw what others knew well, the big man, had a huge problem—leprosy and then she found a solution,.Even though she was powerless to act on it, she did her part in articulating it.She proferred a solution.It was up to others to act on it, and they did.Nice strategy little maid.Pointing out a powerful person’s problem can get you in the trash pile: a lost chance, a lost job or even death. When you are a lower case leader, you learn how to whisper, help out a lot and then indirectly add influence. It is not easy. It is the hardest form of leaders.

Pointing little fingers is the temptation of those in the lower case leadership positions. The little maid had a different mindset. She pointed to a solution and graciously left that as an option for others to take or discard as they saw fit. She was a true visionary. She had an out of the world idea that God, Elisha and Israel would help  this man.That was an amazing vision. While this little girl shows up in the least flattering position—at the bottom—she is about to lead the top.

The paragon of the capital L leadership—Naaman, the Great Man—and the perfect illustration of the lower case “l” came together for the wonderful story of healing.When you got a David or Solomon for a king and the nations are sending you stuff and praising you and you seem all-powerful, that makes you feel like things are going well,even morally great.It’s harder to keep the stiff upper lip for moral leading when the tables seems turned, and things a horrible.

Elisha knew both the highs and lows. He saw the Elijah times and now he was in the Elisha times. His was a tough life, but in many regards the time for moral leadership like the little maid to make more sense.“If only my master would see the prophet who  in Samaria.He would cure him of his leprosy.”This is a deeper hue of hope because there is no glorious success story of Israel to distract from the simplicity of its moral vision.  “If only” indicates a deep desire, a longing, a yearning, a seeing. It is a bold seeing….And “he would cure” part is an imperfect verb, used to denote an uncompleted but determined action.

This little slave girl had a deep resiliency of moral vision, to believe that leprosy could be cured and that her enemy would be healed by her God through the displaced prophet.This was moral leadership from the underbelly of life. She had the audacity to believe her country, her kingdom and her prophet still had something to offer. Back then, if a kingdom was overrun by a foreign invader, it was felt that the foreign God and kingdom and prophets were superior. One would change membership. I was stupid to buy into a wisdom like she fostered.

But like a Daniel figure, the woman’s statement and life testified she had ultimate allegiance to God. Her faith worked against simple logic. If A (Elisha) is less than B (Rimmon’s prophets) and B (Rimmon’s prophets) is less than C (Leprosy), then A (Elisha) is always less than C (Leprosy). But that logic worked against a reality she had come to experience. Just because bad things happen doesn’t mean God is not still in control and that He is not ready and eager to work through His prophets.I can image each morning the little maid’s gentle footsteps and positivity were a witness to a God of extra-ordinary power.  A peaceful smile despite her slave status suggested a different moral vision.This must have contrasted to the warriors own harsh reality and even harsher fears of death. She was a cool breeze in the hot air.

Naaman willingness to listen to his wife and the maids suggestions signifies  humility.  He went to the king of Syria and reports: “My slave girl said a prophet in Israel could heal my leprosy.” He was willing to look weird,  probably out of desperation, but still willing to take a risk. Surprisingly the king believed; He didn’t think twice. He emptied the coffers and got the official documents and sent Naaman on his way. And we never heard about the little girl again. She did her leading and back to folding clothes she went.

There are many examples of moral leadership in the remaining part of this story. Here are at least four emerging principles from this story.

  1. Leadership can occur by anyone, anywhere, using whatever they have.
  2. Leadership is not for only holy people. The Syrian’s have a successful king and general who learned how to lead well and run armies, even better than the Israelites.
  3. Leadership has never been about position nor greatness. Slaves can lead.
  4. Words matter, but are most powerful when supported by a life. It takes hope and courage to speak truth to power, but the results can be good.
  5. Finally, immigrants, foreigners, and others can lead in the new countries in which economic hardship or persecution or abuse occurs.

This view of leadership and moral leadership liberates leaders from the claws of greatness, from the straight-jacket of celebrity-hood, and from the selfishness that so often marks the leadership literature.

For me, it reminds me that the safest place  to examine leadership theory and leadership studies is from the  scriptures. It continues to keep leadership from the strangle hold of power-mongering, competition, and capitalistic greed. i believe  moral leadership is to see a need, rally resources to meet the need, and continually keep the healing metaphor alive.

You can do that within any limited space of relationships.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite Biblical passage for talking about leadership in general and moral leadership in particular is 2 Kings 5: The story of Naaman’s healing.

I encourage you to read it now, looking for leadership.

While the big focus in the story is on Naaman and Elisha, as it should be, there is an amazing array of other moral leaders that play important roles in this passage—the most critical being in the little maid.

There are also a few who illustrate what NOT to do as a leader, as seen in the cowardly actions of the king of Israel and Gehazi.

The good moral leadership qualities are shown in two types of groups. The first type is moral leadership influence that comes from those like Naaman who have moral influence from official places of power  and highly visibility. The second type of moral leadership is illustrated by the moral leadership exerted by the little maid whose moral influence is probably the strongest in this passage but from the weakest power base.

Naaman was a Syrian general who had been conquering his area of the world. It seems he had been successful in his campaigns over everything, including Israel. In the process, he had captured a little girl who became the main example of moral leadership in this story as she influenced others despite her “low estate.” This foreigner, this captured little girl—little in so many ways, but big in the ones that count—became Naaman’s wife’s maid and through that influenced others. The little girl is not named in the story, illustrating that powerful moral influence can be exerted without status or much talk.

We have in this single passage both a “great man” view of leadership and the influence theory of leadership. Naaman and no-name little maid illustrate each.

My colleague David Ferguson talks about Leadership in two forms, a Capital “L” form and a lower case “l” form. The capital L is when leadership comes packaged officially in an office that most officially recognize as coming from an officially powerful place or person of leadership. It is leadership with a “sign” clearly noting this person is the leader and should watched and heeded.

In this passage, capital L shows up in the office and work of the Syrian King, the war General Naaman and the Prophet Elisha. All hold offices associated with leadership and generally are recognized as authoritative in what they say and interestingly, how they say it. Surprisingly, the prophetic office is the most socially constructed of the three and requires a collaborative socially structured belief system to support it and as such creates a natural connecting role and link between the capital “L” and the lower case “l” leadership which mirrors in this passage a unique and delicate role of influence between the human and divine relationship of influence (more on that in later passages).

Lower case leadership shows up in many places in this story: the little maid, Naaman’s  wife, the messenger sent by Elisha and with several of Naaman’s personal servants. While all go unnamed (except for one lower case l leader who wanted to stand out and was put out—Gehazi).

In keeping with the lower case l leaders, they go unnamed, thus illustrating the role of lowercase “l” leadership as moral influence that is from a place of obscurity. As such, it requires a certain degree of highly courageous, politically savvy and interpersonal skill in its work, but is also quiet.

(As one who writes, I also see another silent leader who was willing to track down the details of this story and record it through the influence of inspiration so that billions of others later would be inspired by such stories of leadership. Yes, writers have a leadership role.)

So there is leadership almost everywhere in this story and, as noted in other posts, this is not surprising given both the complexity of leadership and its deeply social and contextual nature [see part 2 of this post as well as previous posts about leadership and management]. Leadership is about seeing and meeting a need.

The Capital L Leaders

Naaman had all the qualities most people associate with OFFICIAL leadership. He was “a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram [Syria]. The man was also a valiant warrior.” He was likely louder, physically stronger, more confident, more accomplishments, and was more pivotal to the success of the whole nation than other people. He was not only a Capital L, but an ALL CAPS, bold and underlined capital L at that.

We should soak in the fact that Naaman was a leader—in both the human dimension and apparently in God’s eyes. Often the scholarly and academic leadership literature on this gets fickle, with a Jackal and Hyde approach to that at times both worships the “great man” theory or run the opposite direction as suggesting only “democratic” leaders works.

I believe neither approach captures full dynamic of leadership. It is NOT just about great people doing magnificent things, but neither is it right to neglect the role of such reformers, change agents, and more aggressive actors in human history that have helped us meet the social and environmental needs of this place called early. Naaman was a powerful and foreboding figure of a man. He led an army of people that could get its way and make things happened. This worked to influence people and create change in his region of the world. It shows some of the qualities of leadership.

Some wonder if God intended for this type of leadership to exist.

Maybe not.

From the beginning when he created Adam and Eve to be equal—He seems to have designed a mutually submissive and shared approach that allowed a time differentiation (man was made first) but no differentiation of influence. That was the whole subtle message of the rib story. Here was to be a seamless following and leading in the intensive and intimate relationship of mutual interdependence was to show the operation of the trinity (‘let us make them in OUR image’).  By listening to and helping each other they would have created a synergistic human family of collaborative teamwork. In function and ability, the woman helped the man, in the sense that the man was given tasks by God, apparently beyond his ability to fulfill. Thus, was the generative source of leadership: impossible work, but assistance from others who could help accomplish that work.

But each seems to slip out of the mutually influencing role: Adam refusing to caution his wife, and his wife willfully wandering from Adam’s and God’s command.

Sin grew in such distortion of mutual responsibility and the human relationships as well as the divine relationships were broken.

Sin did something that may have made Capital L leadership necessary. I am not fully aware of what that is—and doubtful if many of the theologians talking about women’s ordination have figured it out as well. However, something happened that distorted not only marriage but leadership, not only mutuality in human relationships but also in the political structures of society. How permanent or necessary this was is unclear to me.

Once sin came in, there was some deployment of hierarchy, partly as a tool to get man to lead, and partly as way to organize wandering followers (which in this case Eve had become). If this story disturbs feminist, it should, it shows how complex sin can become to human relationships which for me is why feminist like Delaney underestimate the type of sacrifice needed to bring cataclysmic restoration to this debilitating process. Only the Cross, where the REAL LEADER gives HIS life, seems to reset this equality. But I digress).

There is some still a quality of hierarchy that seems to be essential in restoring and maintaining the moral order even by Paul’s day as shown in:

“For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (Romans 13: 3-5).

So, one of the first statements about moral leadership is that God uses “first class butt kicking” as Mark Gungor called it, to keep the planet on its moral projector.

Naaman seems to be such an agent of God. He seems to be used by God to meet out punishment, even on Israel.

This concept is hard to hold in our mind as we wrestle with the equal truth that God had a strong disregard for kingly powers like this. This is evident in 1 Samuel 8 and also in his comments in Matthew 20:25 that it was not to be among

“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

All this gets factored into a complex understanding of God’s use of “power leaders” in the world and in the moral development of nations. A reading of Jeremiah 27 and Daniel 4 has convinced me that Nebuchadnezzar had many of the same qualities that Naaman had and God used both of them to bring swift justice to the region around Israel and to Israel itself.  And in that justice, God was working through these warriors to accomplish his will. HOWEVER, and this is the clincher: Both mighty warriors needed conversion, and would encounter God in a powerful way in healing them of their leprosy (Naaman) and pride (Nebuchadnezzar).

Jeremiah the prophet is very clear in Jeremiah 27 that EVEN BEFORE Nebuchadnezzar was converted, he was an instrument of God for justice, change, improvement, and in punishing evil, he was exacting great pain on Israel and in the cosmic scheme of God, preserving morality.

This is the hard message to swallow and even to unpack fully except to acknowledge that the sword of states are represented in the moral leadership of Naaman, as abusive and chaotic as they seem.

On a closer to home observation, I think this reminds us that there is a huge need for the powerful and confident and presidential, for those who use power.

BUT….and this is the big qualifier.

Both the story of Naaman, and the whole point of the book of Daniel, reminds us that there are limits to this type of leadership, its use of authority and its moral influence. AND THAT SUCH MORAL LEADERSHIP WILL BE JUDGED BY GOD AND HISTORY.

And the limit on such moral leadership seems twofold: over the private right of judgment and in knowing solutions to significant problems. There is a blindness to even the most successful powerful leader that requires them to listen to the rest of us.

Herein is the invitation to moral leadership for the rest of us: to step up, talk up, and be willing even to die for our convictions.

Leprosy was going to kill Naaman if he didn’t get help.

The little maid could have kept quite, but she had a much better vision. Help the guy.

Leadership is about helping others, even when the don’t deserve it.

The little maid knew she was weak and powerless but she had the solution. She had to speak up, but she was wise to whisper her concern to someone with more power.

“If only…..” as she smiled, “then….”

That is all it took. Her suggestion became a command soon.

The place for little “l” leaders was everywhere.

Daniel and the little maid both were not top dogs but they had a leadership role to plan.  They had to boldly seek solutions even as captives in a system they did not create.

This applies to those who feel like they are on the slave or servant end of a marriage, job, or position of lower management.

It is one of those dichotomies. God is with many leaders, despite the fact that they have serious limitations. Might rulers, obnoxious as they can be at times, with appetites for power and fame, often are tools for Christ’s work.

But if they don’t get reminded of their limits, He will personally do so.

And it seems the only solution to their serious flaw is to listen to nobodies around them.

That is the message of Daniel 4 when Daniel is called to interpret the dream of the tree cut down:

“Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.”

Strong language from lower case “l” leaders to Capital “L” leaders is you need to listen to us. Daniel was a little bolder with King Neb because he had risen to being a Capital “L” leader but was still someone under authority as the maid was. The maid had to be even more subtle.

I see in this story key aspects of leadership as the ability to command change, command people and make justice occur. This is leadership and to deny it or try to diminish is reject the two forms of leadership.

Capital L leadership typically changes and leads through structures it controls, through the control of resources, the right and power to speak louder and more often, from the top down, and stays close to patterns of authority and power that advantage its orders and commands. (We seem to generally benefit from some of this influence, but Jesus saw this would not work for the church so he didn’t want the gentile approach to be adopted by his believers. That is why he said that to them. It is NOT to be the way among you. It is too dangerous of a way that kills truth.

This is because Jesus knew the power of distributed leadership, lower case l leadership can accomplish more because it gets back to the Edenic pattern. It blends in, manifesting its influences in the cracks of daily life and quietly filling relationships gaps. It may be peer-to-peer, but often from the Bottom Up and the Inside Out.

So, not wanting to dismiss the need for strong and official change agents, we also need to see in this passage a call to all to be leaders.

Both are crucial to meeting the needs of a society. Both need to be cultivated in society. Being a successful leader ALWAYS requires acknowledging both and supporting both the strong and official as well as the painfully shy types of leaders.

Being a successful follower does not mean you cop-out of being a person of influence. And being a powerful leader does not mean you cop-out of listening. I guarantee every leader does not have all the cards in their hand to make change happen. We all have sin that will kill us if we don’t listen to advice around us. We all have little maids that are giving us warnings that we need to heed to succeed. We need someone to be listening for us.

The deeper manifestations of leadership here is the thinking of the little maid.  She was able to handle two dichotomies: to recognize God’s work of reform that was allowing Naaman to overrun her town and kill her people and displace her prophet. And in the same mind, she was able to have a persistent belief that despite this cruel reality, her prophet and her God, though apparently on the losing end of the battle, were in control at a deeper level. That was the level of service and humility.

In her own work of slavery, she saw a glimpse of the leadership of God and the prophet. They did not Lord it over, but were willing to lead from the bottom up, to even heal enemies.

What a vision of greatness this little maid had!

This shows that lower case “l” leaders can be carriers of profound vision that even the statesmen and generals and warriors and captains can learn from. She loved her enemies and was trying to figure out how to get Naaman to the help he needed.

The work to bring about something good for others, meeting needs, requires the kings, generals and prophets. It also requires the hard work, the bold talk, and the counsel of those in the cracks of the power hierarchy.

I call this leadership doing something else for someone else (see other post) because it keeps focus on meeting needs even when official leaders may be distracted by power, greed, paranoia, sex or fame, or sin’s deeper diseases like paranoia and guilt.

She saw what others knew well, the big man, had a huge problem—leprosy and then she found a solution, and even though she was powerless to act on it, she did her part in articulating it.

She gave a solution.

It was up to others to act on it, and they did.

Nice strategy little maid.

Pointing out a powerful person’s problem can get you in the trash pile: a lost chance, a lost job or even death. When you are a lower case leader, you learn how to whisper, help out a lot and then indirectly add influence. It is not easy. It is the hardest form of leaders. Ask the God of heaven who could have struck many dead but has been patient.

Pointing little fingers is the temptation of those in the lower case leadership positions. The little maid had a different mindset. She pointed to a solution and graciously left that as an option for others to take or discard as they saw fit.

She was a true visionary. She had an out of the world idea that God, Elisha and Israel would help her help this man.

That was an amazing vision.

So, while this little girl shows up in the least flattering position—at the bottom—she is about to lead the top.

We have in this story both stories of moral leadership.

The paragon of the capital L leadership—Naaman the Great Man—and the perfect illustration of the lower case “l” came together for the wonderful story of healing.

This is something good for the bad times. When you got a David or Solomon for a king and the nations are sending you stuff and praising you and you seem all-powerful, that makes you feel like things are going well, even morally great.

It’s harder to keep the stiff upper lip for moral leading when the tables seems turned, and things a horrible.

Elisha knew both the highs and lows. He saw the Elijah times and now he was in the Elisha times. His was a tougher life, but in many regards the time for moral leadership like the little maid to make more sense.

“If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

This is a deeper hue of hope because there is no glorious success story of Israel to distract from the simplicity of its moral vision.  “If only” indicates a deep desire, a longing, a yearning, a seeing. It is a bold seeing….And “he would cure” part is an imperfect verb, used to denote an uncompleted but determined action.

In the OT the imperfect is often used to denote a future action, almost like a promise, a predictive future, both a possibility to be cured and a certainty if he responds.

This little slave girl had a deep resiliency of moral vision, a chutzpah to believe that leprosy could be cured and that her enemy would be healed by her God through the displace prophet.

This was moral leadership from the underbelly of life.

She had a chutzpah to believe her country, her kingdom and her prophet still had something to offer. Back then, if a kingdom was overrun by a foreign invader, it was felt that the foreign God and kingdom and prophets were superior. One would change membership. I was stupid to buy into a wisdom like she fostered.

But like a Daniel figure, the woman’s statement and life testified she held ultimate allegiance to God.

Her faith worked against simple logic. If A (Elisha) is less than B (Rimmon’s prophets) and B (Rimmon’s prophets) is less than C (Leprosy), then A (Elisha) is always less than C (Leprosy).

But that logic worked against a reality she had come to experience. Just because bad things happen doesn’t mean God is not still in control and that He is not ready and eager to work through His prophets.

I can image each morning the little maid’s gentle footsteps and positivity were a witness to a God of extra-ordinary power.  A peaceful smile despite her slave status suggested a different moral vision.

This must have contrasted to the warriors own harsh reality and even harsher fears of death. She was a cool breeze in the hot air.

Naaman willingness to listen to his wife and the maids suggestions suggest a willingness of humility.  He limps into the king of Syria and reports: “My slave girl said a prophet in Israel could heal my leprosy.” He was willing to look weird,  probably out of desperation, but still willing to take a risk. Surprisingly the king believed; He didn’t think twice. He emptied the coffers and got the official documents and sent Naaman on his way.

And we never hear about the little girl again. She did her leading and back to folding clothes she went.

There is much more moral leadership in the rest of this story, but at least four principles emerge from this story.

  1. Leadership can occur by anyone, anywhere, using whatever they have.
  2. Leadership is not for only holy people. The Syrian’s have a successful king and general who learned how to lead well and run armies, even better than the Israelites.
  3. Leadership has never been about position nor greatness. Slaves can lead.
  4. Words matter, but are most powerful when supported by a life. It takes hope and courage to speak truth to power, but the results can be good.
  5. Finally, immigrants, foreigners, and others can lead in the new countries in which economic hardship or persecution or abuse occurs.

What this view of leadership and moral leadership does is liberate leadership from the claws of greatness, from the straight-jacket of celebrity-hood, and from the selfishness that so often marks leadership literature. What is also has done for me, is to remind me that the safest place from which to do leadership theory and leadership studies is still scripture. It continues to keep leadership from the strangle hold of power-mongering, competition, and capitalistic greed.

For me, moral leadership is to see a need, rally resources to meet the need, and continually keep the healing metaphor alive.

You can do that within any limited space of relationships.



About the Author

Duane Covrig

I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.






One Comment


  1. […] pointed out in the blog on Naaman and the little maid (2 Kings 5), it can be bold and heart-wrenchingly nation-changing or quiet and […]



Comments