Scripture gives no clear indication that Saul and David met face to face during those evenings in the tent when David sang to the restless king. That may seem strange, but we would be ill-advised to assume that Saul and David built some kind of father-and-son relationship. Perhaps it happened, but more likely it didn’t. Saul was, after all, a king and David a visiting minstrel.
The king’s tent was not a pup tent like that of a boy scout. Rather, Saul’s tent would’ve been quite large, perhaps with a veil hanging down that separated his sleeping area from the rest of the tent. When David was brought in with his lyre, Saul was probably already in bed, tossing and turning, perhaps struggling with his demons. The king’s pitiable groaning must have unnerved a sheltered boy from a rural village.
David was likely told to sit across the room on pillows laid out for him and to sing a few songs until the king drifted into a peaceful night’s sleep. Then David was excused to go back to the baggage tent where he slept. That went on for an undetermined amount of time before Saul felt he was better and ready to go on a military campaign. Thus, the two kings’ paths diverged once again.
We do not know if the two kings ever met face to face during that time. We do know that David, the young shadow king, did not begin a mutiny during these long nights when King Saul was perhaps at his most vulnerable. David did not spread the rumor around camp that Saul had lost his anointing from God. He did not let on that he, a boy who killed lions and bears with his hands, had been told by the prophet Samuel himself that he was to be the next king.
Some years ago, while serving as a university president, I attended a conference for college administrators. I heard one president tell another, "I hate it when my vice presidents can't agree. Sometimes when I'm trying to get what ought to be a pretty quick consensus on some issue, everybody in the room seems to think their point of view is the right on. I get so sick of bad group dynamics."
Of course, I did not say a single word but I walked away thinking plenty of words. What that president had, and which, from his own words, I must assume he did not like, was not bad at all, but good. Even if his team dynamics were bad, the health or toxicity of a group's dynamics are the responsibility of leadership. I don't suppose any leader enjoys presiding over team conflict but it is unavoidable and will be until the age of robots evolves a bit further. Absent of mindless automatons, there will be differing opinions in every team. The better the team, the higher octane the members, the more conflict there will be. Hire weak-kneed sycophants and you'll have very few differences of opinion in the room. All your associates will spend most of their energy trying to figure out your opinion and whatever is left they will spend competing to be first on the bandwagon. On the other hand, hire strong-minded professionals with diverse knowledge sets, expertise, experience and backgrounds and they are hardly likely to be shrinking violets unwilling to speak their minds.
The "bad" thing about thoroughbreds is that they want to run. They don't want to just sit in the barn and be hand fed sugar. On the other hand, the good thing about thoroughbreds is that they win races. If you want to win, surround yourself with winners.
Here are essentials for managing winners.
"Quitters never win, and winners never quit."
That shop-worn saying denounces quitters and quitting in no uncertain terms. As is true of most folk proverbs, there is a mixture of truth and error in it. Certainly, quitting too soon, giving up the minute the going gets a bit rough is a sure sign of an undeveloped character. For example, we have become a nation of marriage quitters. Instead of hacking through the rough jungle of marital hurt with the machetes of counseling and perseverance and forgiveness, Americans rush to quit. For many, the default position is to bail out without even considering the possibility of doing the hard work to get through whatever tangled mess their marriage is in -- regardless of who got them there.
If quitting means diving for the escape hatch at the first sign of hardship, well, such quitters as that will seldom win. Often, quite often, great leaders must stay the course when the winds are contrary. Encouraging the team while coming up with new strategies, great leaders can steer the ship on through the storms of adversity. Many times victory is just ahead for those who hang in there.
On the other hand, the proverbial wisdom about quitting can sometimes be an ego trap to keep leadership heading straight toward disaster. Lurking in the dark side of perseverance is a stubborn refusal to listen to face reality or wise counsel. Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do. Even as I wrote that last sentence I could hear the complaints. I should probably stop right here, but I refuse to quit. While it may be true that quitters never win, it is also true that sometimes winners quit.
Here are a few thoughts on quitting.
One day, the prophet Samuel arrived in town. This was a big deal, especially in a village like Bethlehem. No paparazzi follow him, but Samuel was the most famous religious leader of his day. Samuel walking into Bethlehem would be something like a rock star today suddenly appearing in a small town or Billy Graham showing up at a country church.
Since anointing Saul as the first king of Israel, Samuel had nearly retired and taken a back seat in the kingdom. His return to the scene, his arrival in Bethlehem, was something of a scary moment. There was serious apprehension. What did this mean? The scriptures even say that the elders of the town were afraid upon seeing Samuel, and they hadn’t even learned the reason he was there. They would have been shocked to learn that the reason for Samuel’s appearance was treason—anointing a new king when a perfectly healthy king sat on the throne.
Samuel doesn’t waste any time upon entering Bethlehem. Samuel was hardly a folksy chap on his sunniest day. He is there on serious business. He tells the elders of the town, “Gather at Jesse’s house for a sacrifice to the Lord.”
“Jesse’s house? What for?” Some of them might have been wondering if he had come to rebuke Jesse’s youngest for blasphemy. Had the boy’s bizarre stories of miracles offended the great prophet?
“I’m going there to anoint a new king,” Samuel answers.
The elders are shocked—probably horrified.
“Look, uh . . . listen, we don’t want to argue with a prophet. Please don’t strike us dead or anything, okay? We’re with you, alright? But, well, we do have just one tiny, maybe important, maybe not, question . . . What about Saul?”
In the bitterest of historical ironies, the only monarch in Israel’s history to be called the Great was Herod, a consummate psychopath. Herod killed so many of his own family that the emperor Augustus joked that it was better to be Herod's pig than his son.
Herod’s “greatness,” such as it was, derived from architecture. He was a great builder of structures, including the famed temple in Jerusalem, but he was also a horrendous destroyer of lives. Nevertheless, he is, to this day, called Herod the Great.
The only king of Israel who merited the honor of being called the Great was not the maniacal Herod, to be sure, but a complex and controversial man who predated Herod by a thousand years, David of Bethlehem.
Even those dismissive of the Bible cannot deny that David is among the most famous names in world literature. Were David nothing but a myth, his story would still be the stuff of the greatest of legends. Giant slayer, warrior chieftain, outlaw, mercenary, lover, poet, musician, and sometime prophet, David is great by any measure.
The arrogance of making experience into a theology that trumps Scripture is exceeded only by the arrogance of making lack of experience into a theology that trumps Scripture.
In Irvine Welsh's dark Scottish novel Trainspotting, a bum living in an abandoned train station tells others he is watching for trains. Of course it is useless. It is useless there, at least, in that abandoned station. Trains still run elsewhere in Scotland. Just not there.
Here is a simple truth: Just because trains don't run past your house doesn't mean there's no such thing as trains. Furthermore, if there are no trains where you are, why not check out other, more active train stations? Trainspotting for cave dwellers is dismally disappointing business, and train denial is absurdly arrogant.
I believe in fasting. I also believe in feasting! Thanksgiving is all about the latter. A feast is a sacred gathering of joy, abundance and relationships. The Judeo-Christian culture recognizes that fasting, the discipline of self denial, is an important part of seeking and serving God at a deeper and more intimate level. Likewise our culture also embraces celebration as a real part of worshipful living.
This year at Thanksgiving I intend to celebrate. I mean it. CELEBRATE! I am going to rejoice with my family and enjoy a great feast and remember God's goodness and grace. I urge you to do the same. Feasting is a statement of faith because it slaps down hoarding which is a factor of fear. If I'm afraid that what I have, is all I'll ever have I tend to grasp it, parsimoniously doling out crumbs to make it last. If I can trust God for more, if I truly believe He will provide tomorrow as abundantly as He has for today, I can feast with joy. Of course, one cannot feast every day any more than one can fast every day. To everything there is a season. There is a time to fast. There is also a time to feast.
When Seutonious, the Roman historian, explained the downfall and death of Marc Anthony, he blamed a flaw in Anthony's character as much as the strategy of his enemy, Octavian. In his pathology of Anthony's astonishing political and military collapse, the historian of the Caesars employed an intriguing Greek word. Literally translated, eklusis simply means to unstring a bow. Figuratively, however, it implies a loss of focus and the resulting loss of energy.
When a bow is strung, energy is in the bow. Unstrung, it loses all its energy. An unstrung bow is hardly more than a stick with a string attached. The energy is in the tension, in the taught string and the bent bow. Furthermore, a strung bow is ready to be used for its purpose. Unstrung, the bow is unprepared for much of any immediate use. Between the unstrung bow and the launching of the arrow, there is now a missing step of preparation and the restoration of energy.
This "unstringing" process is often a matter of distraction. Living in luxury in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, indulging himself with Cleopatra, and according to Seutonious, frequently staying drunk, Marc Anthony quite obviously forgot the point. Soft, distracted and unprepared, Anthony, could not hope to defeat the ferociously energetic and obsessively focused enemy, who was to become Caesar Augustus.
It is difficult to separate tradition from history with regard to the various waves of persecution endured by Christians under the Roman Empire. The numbers of Christians crucified and thrown to wild beasts may be exaggerated, as some maintain. Perhaps. That this happened in some numbers is undeniable. The first emperor to launch an official state-authorized assault on Roman believers was probably Nero. After an incredibly destructive fire, the rumor spread that the emperor, insulated from the death and devastation, cared nothing for the pain of the people. Hence the statement, probably more apocryphal than historical, "Nero fiddled while Rome burned."
Last week in The Leader's Notebook, I wrote about three ships and how their leaders, read captains, performed or failed to perform in the line of duty. If you missed that edition I hope you will go back and check it out here. This week I want to consider two more "leader-ships." These two were failures; one of which was an absolute catastrophe, and one that was used for political purposes. Both are highly educational for those in leadership.
I. The Vasa Ship
In 1628, the king of Sweden was Gustovus Adolphus. Intimidated by the great naval powers of Europe he decided Sweden should burst onto the stage with a resounding statement. King Adolphus commissioned the Vasa ship and ordered that it be one of the greatest seagoing vessels of the day. Furthermore, he wanted it to be a veritable work of art, a ship so beautiful that his neighboring monarchs would see what a sophisticated and creative nation Sweden was. Of course, he also wanted the ship's ordinance to be so impressive that his contemporary monarchs would get the message that Sweden's king was a power to be reckoned with.
Of all the Christmas carols beloved of millions, one makes absolutely no sense to me at all. It is a folk song, so there is no one to blame, and its staunchest defenders appeal only to its traditional place in the catalogue of Christmas culture. It apparently was created in Derbyshire, England sometime in the 17th century and the melody is an off-spring of “Greensleeves.” It is beautiful to hear especially in a choral arrangement. The problem is the lyrics.
In most forms the words make reference to ships sailing in to Bethlehem. That is a bit problematic since that Holy City is land-locked. I suppose that some village minstrel in the 17th century jolly old is to be forgiven for envisioning Bethlehem as a far away and exotic version of Portsmouth. Then there is the issue of the ships. We're they carrying the wise men? Perhaps they were actually camels, the ships of the desert. Really? That's a stretch. Someone suggested they represent the Trinity. On ships? The Trinity? Oh, come on!
No, the bottom line is, “Three Ships” is a sweet old tune we will continue to sing at Christmas and simply ignore the fact that we have no idea what it means. I'm okay with that and I will bask in its beauty at Christmas and simply not think about it too much. In fact I am actually pretty adept at not thinking overmuch about anything, especially obscure things.
However, I bet I know what YOU are thinking right at this moment. Why is he writing this now when Christmas is hardly on anyone's mind? I am choosing the metaphor of three ships for a lesson on leadership and the meaningless old carol came to my mind. That's it. So, forgetting Christmas until it’s colder, consider with me three ships and leadership lessons they offer.
I. The Costa Concordia
On January 13, 2012, Captain Francesco Schettino drove his ship up on the rocks just off the shore of Isola del Giglio, an island northwest of Rome. I referenced this wreck in the introductory pages of ReLaunch.
Immigrants often express a shared dilemma: an inner conflict between the need to fit in, to belong to their new country, or at least to survive in it and the fear of losing their own roots. This clash within themselves is a deeply troubling, even painful identity crisis which is not easily or quickly resolved. Indeed, this struggle may persist across generations or even centuries. On the one hand, they long to belong where they live. They want to be a part of the society in which they now work and raise a family. On the other hand, they cannot simply jettison their entire former cultural selves. Culture is a complex tapestry of clothing, food, music, language, architecture and an entire value system informed by such realities as religion and history.
I met an elderly Greek woman in a souvenir shop in Florida who could speak only a few words of English. Her clothing was so typical of her country of birth that one might have assumed she had just come to the United States. However, her grandson told me she had lived in America for more than half a century. He, by the way, could speak hardly any Greek, and admitted with a shrug that the two of them had hardly any real relationship at all.
Hers was the immigrant dilemma. Her family are Americans. Her grandchildren do not think of themselves as Greeks or even in some hyphenated way such as Greek-Americans. Just Americans. She feels out of place. She looks for things that seem familiar. She lives where she lives because she has no choice, but it is strange territory. She still cooks dolmades and moussaka and most of her family eats it but she knows her grandchildren prefer hamburgers and french fries.
Ok, I want some interaction on this blog. Maybe help is a better word. I'm formulating a list of outrageous theological statements, or statements that at least sound outrageous at first glance. I have come up with a burgeoning list but I want more. Today's Notebook is a tease, or perhaps a plea. Today I will briefly discuss just a few of the outrageous truths on my list in an attempt to prime the pump of public participation. A dear friend of mine, whose day-to-day thoughts are pretty outrageous, has contributed already. What I'm requesting is that you read these and add some truths of your own. I may cobble them together into a small book. I may use them in teaching. I may just amuse myself and some of my more outrageous friends.
The idea is this. Make statements that are right but do not sound right, or may not sound right until they are explained. The more outrageous they sound the better. The thing is, though, they have to be true. Anybody can think up outrageous theological nonsense. The question is, can you think up outrageous sounding truth? Here are a few sample "outrageous truths." Read these and then let me see your contributions. How outrageous are you?
Leaders and constituencies both religious and secular are floundering in the complex communications landscape of the early 21st Century. The prevailing cultural mosaic is an awkward marriage of hyper-tolerance and a Puritanical demand for absolute devotement to some "party line," a particular theological perspective or a specific denominational mantra. In other words, each sub-culture sees perfect, absolute adherence to the tiniest bits and pieces of its philosophical agenda as of far greater importance than pragmatic leadership.
RELAUNCH: HOW TO STAGE AN ORGANIZATIONAL COMEBACK
by Dr. Mark Rutland
The demise of Oldsmobile is a textbook example of a company getting ahead of itself and changing its message before it had a new market to align with the new message. Management at Oldsmobile realized that it had a specific market that wanted a specific kind of car. For decades they had been convinced that there would always be people who wanted Oldsmobiles, and that those people would always want Oldsmobiles to look like Oldsmobiles. They did quite well with that market. The problem was that they were securing a growing share of a shrinking market. The people who wanted Oldsmobiles were elderly, and they were dying. Young people didn't want Oldsmobiles.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Oldsmobile hired an advertising agency to create a last-gasp, hail-Mary campaign to
I am haunted by the smoky notes of the late Billie Holiday. Hardly any voice in the jazz world reaches me as hers does. Of all her songs perhaps my favorite is All of Me. Other artists have covered the tune, including such disparate singers as Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney and even The Muppets, but no one can touch Billie Holiday. Here are a few lines of this famous jazz classic.
All of me.
Why not take all of me?
Can't you see
I'm no good without you?
You took the part that once was my heart,
So why not take all of me?
Paraphrasing only a bit, those simple lyrics ask one of the crucial questions of leadership: Why not all of you?
The seas of human life, so lashed as they are by storms of crisis and controversy, are where real leaders do their duty. Happily-ever-aftering only happens in the movies. Real life, and therefore real leadership, is actually one storm after another punctuated by brief and very welcome periods of calm. Once a leader finds the maturity and experience to face that honestly, the stormy seasons become immensely less stressful.
Until that threshold is passed, every storm feels like the "big one," the once in a lifetime, storm of the century that just has to be lived over and "normality" will return. Such naive leaders spend way too much energy trying to figure out why this storm has come upon them. They agonize uselessly over imponderables. Why this storm at this time? Why me? Did I sail the wrong sea? Are the very elements conspiring against me? In other words, is this storm part of some
In the mid-1950's, the inimitable Willie Nelson wrote a song called “The Party's Over.” He used it mainly as the closing song for a band he was with at the time. He did not record the song himself until 1966, at which time it sold, not like a blockbuster, but fairly well, peaking at number 24 on the country music chart. Who actually made the song world famous, however, was not a singer but a retired quarterback turned sports announcer.
Don Meredith, who had quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys, became the third partner of the founding Monday Night Football triumvirate. The other two on that celebrated broadcast team were Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford. When the outcome of a Monday Night contest would become apparent, perhaps even a runaway, Meredith would begin to sing “The Party's Over.” It was an overnight sensation and it was always funny.
Here are some of the lyrics.
Turn out the lights.
The party's over.
They say that all good things must end.
Call it a night.
The party's over.
It's an easy song to sing from the broadcast booth at someone else's game. When you're down on the field, bloodied, playing your guts out and apparently headed toward defeat, it's not fun to sing and it's not funny.
I have read a zillion articles on visionary entrepreneurism, on when and how to launch a start-up. Such books are inspirational and motivational and nothing I say hereafter should detract from their benefit. I myself wrote a book called Launch Out Into The Deep and another called ReLaunch.
Less, much less in fact, has been written about when to turn out the lights. Everybody loves a party and starting a party is especially fun. The end of a party is not always so nice. By the end of the night, cleaning up, closing down, getting the hangers-on to go home, and turning off the lights is not very exciting.
From his perch in the broadcast booth, Don Meredith always seemed to discern the exact moment when, for all intents and purposes it was over, when the odds of a come-back were simply too overwhelming. What about in leadership? How do we know when to call it a night? Knowing when to go to a new leadership opportunity is actually much easier to know than when to leave one.
Here are some thoughts on heading for the exit.
Labor Day is a much loved three-day weekend in the United States. This national holiday speaks of grilling out, family picnics and summer's last hurrah ahead of the harsh realities of back to school and even the winter to come. However, the labor it celebrates just may not be as beloved as the holiday itself. I certainly understand everyone loves a special day off and Labor Day comes at a particularly beautiful “end-of-summer” moment. Family fun and one last fling at the lake are a welcome weekend to be sure, but what about labor, the work from which we take the weekend off? The value of the holiday is self-evident to a recreation-minded culture such as that of the US. Work itself? Maybe not so much.
In fact, there is an actual anti-work message that percolates through Western culture at certain levels. Often it is expressed as a sort of joke, a playful poke at the Protestant work ethic.