Leadership Styles in 1 & 2 Kings
The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.
Leadership Styles in 1 & 2 Kings
Merida introduced his Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings by touting the relevance of the biblical text to the modern world. In doing so, he cites Romans 15:4 (NKJV), which states, “…whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” There is much in this exposition for anyone to learn (and plenty of hope), but since its primary subjects are kings and prophets, the text easily lends itself to studies of leadership. There are numerous examples of leadership throughout the book, and it includes examples of several modern leadership styles. This paper will examine the effectiveness of and alternatives to autocratic leadership, servant leadership, and transformational leadership both within Merida’s Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings and in contemporary contexts.
Schaubroeck et al. stated that “Authoritarian leadership has normally been viewed among scholars and practitioners as a destructive leadership style… … and considered both inappropriate and ineffective for leadership in contemporary organizations worldwide.” This is not to suggest that it was any more appropriate or effective during Old Testament times. The results in ancient Israel were just as abysmal as one would expect in the 21st century.
Autocratic Leadership in Merida
Merida discussed two people who utilized the autocratic (or synonymously authoritarian) leadership style: Rehoboam and Jezebel.
Shaubroeck et al. suggested that autocratic leadership was part of the “dark,” or destructive side of leadership. Interestingly, Merida describes Jeroboam’s reign in similar terms, writing “It was a dark day in Israel” and discussing “the dark practices” of Rehoboam’s followers. While it may not seem fair to lay the blame for all of Israel’s misdeeds at Rehoboam’s feet, the truth is that he is the king and his subjects reflect his leadership. As Merida explained, “Even though we’re examining kings, God’s people… …identify with the king.” Scripture states in 2 Chronicles 12:14, that the underlying cause for Israel’s falling away from the faith is that Rehoboam “did evil, because he did not prepare his heart to seek the Lord.”
In the Beginning. Rehoboam’s autocratic leadership style is on full display at the very beginning of his reign.
Making Individual Decisions. Chukwusa stated that autocratic leaders may seek staff input when making a decision, but not legitimately consider the input . Instead, Chukwusa asserted that “autocratic leaders… …are known for individual control over all decisions and little input from staff.” The sequence of events in 1 Kings 12:8 suggests that Rehoboam first “rejected the advice which the elders had given him, and [then] consulted the young men who had grown up with him.” His friends “had grown up with him” and shared his life experiences. They were an extension of himself and their thoughts were an extension of his own. Thus, Rehoboam rejected input from his staff and turned within himself to make the decision.
Using Authority to Control Followers. Shaubroeck et al. stated that “authoritarian leadership… …refers to an approach to leadership that emphasizes the use of authority to control followers.” Rehoboam’s plan to “add to [Israel’s] yoke… [and] chastise [them] with scourges” (1 Kings 12:14) exemplified his use of authority to control his followers.
Follower Behaviors. Chukwusa stated that autocratic leadership “could result in hostile attitudes… [and] …high labour turnover and absenteeism.” This is exactly how the Israelites responded when they heard Rehoboam’s plan. They expressed verbal hostility, rejected Rehoboam as their king (turnover), and returned to their tents (absenteeism). Finally, Rehoboam decided to remind the Israelites of his authority by sending Adoram to them, but they responded with even more hostility by stoning Adoram (1 Kings 12:18),
Long-Term Effects. The two lasting effects of Rehoboam’s autocratic leadership include the division of Israel and the wickedness of Judah.
Division. While the crumbling of the fragile united Israeli-Judean monarchy began during David’s reign, its divide became permanent following Rehoboam’s infamous speech. The Israelite response in 1 Kings 12:16 is quite similar to Sheba’s call to rebellion in 2 Samuel 20:1, except that the Israelites added “Now, see to your own house, O David!” This was the Old Testament equivalent of “And I don’t want to see or hear from you ever again!” and it marked the end of the unified kingdom. Rehoboam’s single act of autocratic leadership led to the permanent tearing apart of his entire kingdom.
Wickedness. The other lasting effect of Rehoboam’s autocratic reign was wickedness. Shaubroeck et al. points out that “authoritarian leaders… …provide a singular and unambiguous version of the group’s identity with which individuals can identify.” In the case of Rehoboam, the “singular and unambiguous identity” was evil. 1 Kings 14:22 records that under Rehoboam’s leadership, “Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord… …and the sins which they committed [were] more than all that their fathers had done.” 1 Kings 14:23-26 catalogues these atrocities, including building high places, sacred pillars, and wooden images for idolatry; practicing sexual immorality; committing the abominations of the nations the Lord had cast out; and allowing the king of Egypt to take away all the treasures from the temple and palace.
The next autocratic leader Merida addresses is Jezebel. Jezebel is infamously associated with evil in modern popular culture. Despite being pushed out of a window and eaten by dogs 3,000 years ago, her name remains synonymous with wickedness and many preachers and theologians discuss a demonic “spirit of Jezebel” at work in the world today. Due to the time in which she lived, one might expect Jezebel’s role as queen to be less influential than her husband Ahab’s. However, Merida observed that Jezebel “wore the pants in the house” and she consequently provides a better example for leadership analysis than Ahab. Jezebel’s autocratic leadership is observable in her interactions with both Elijah and Naboth.
Jezebel and Elijah. While Jezebel’s and Elijah’s paths cross several times, her threat to kill him is the strongest display of her autocratic leadership.
Pagan Worship. Just like Rehoboam before her, Jezebel meets Shaubroeck et al.’s standard of “provid[ing] a singular and unambiguous version of the group’s identity with which individuals can identify.” In this case, the group’s identity is pagan worship, and Jezebel clears up any misconceptions about that by killing off God’s prophets (1 Kings 18:13). Not only does she kill off the prophets of the Lord, but Jezebel also establishes “ prophets of Baal, and…  prophets of Ahserah, who eat at [her] table” (1 Kings 18:19). Jezebel’s autocratic leadership has turned God’s chosen people to idolatry and tried to remove Him from their nation.
Attempted Murder. Schaubroeck et al. identifies “higher autocratic leadership [as a construct which] represents relatively low sharing of power and information… …as well as relatively high efforts to control… …behaviors.” Unsurprisingly, Jezebel demonstrated an unwillingness to share power with God, Ahab, or anyone else in her life. In the case of Ahab, he just backs down and allows Jezebel free rein, so this dynamic of her personality is difficult to observe in their relationship. However, her rage became unquenchable after God rained fire down from heaven—after her impotent god had failed to do so—and Elijah killed all 850 of her prophets (1 Kings 18:20-40). She thought she could control God’s power, conceal the revelation of His power, and control her subjects’ behavior by preventing them from worshipping Him. She attempted to accomplish this by killing Elijah, but he escaped before she was able to do so.
Jezebel and Naboth. Jezebel’s autocratic leadership is also on display in her murder of Naboth. The same pattern is present here as with Elijah. She sees a threat to her power in the form of Naboth refusing to acquiesce to Ahab’s demands and rather than risk a loss of power, regains control by having him assassinated (1 Kings 21:1-16). In doing so, Jezebel again fulfilled Schaubroeck et al.’s description of autocratic leadership as being characterized by “low sharing of power and… …high efforts to control.”
The results of autocratic leadership in the case of these two leaders were so catastrophic that literally any other leadership style would have been a significant improvement.
Servant Leadership for Rehoboam
In the case of Rehoboam, a servant leadership style seems to be the best fit for his situation. Rehoboam has the same team of advisors that served his father Solomon, the wisest man ever. Those advisors told him “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7). Long before modern scholarship rediscovered servant leadership, these advisors knew what Lu et al. discovered millennia later, “that servant leadership is significantly associated with better… …attitudes, less turnover, better organizational citizenship behavior…, …and increased performance.” Rehoboam would likely have preferred this result to what he achieved using autocratic leadership, circumstances which Chukwusa would have likely described as “hostile attitudes… [and] …high labour turnover and absenteeism.”
Transformational Leadership for Jezebel
While Jezebel’s leadership objectives and personality traits make it unlikely that she would consider any other leadership styles, a transformational leadership style would be the most effective in her situation without a complete reinvention of her person. Keskes et al. stated that “transformational leadership styles are more effective… …to motivate employees and to enhance organizational performance.” Essentially, Jezebel could keep her power and achieve the same outcomes without having to kill anyone.
Effectiveness in Modernity
Despite the close association between autocratic leadership and despotism, there are some contexts in which it is effective, and even preferable. In this author’s life, autocratic leadership has been beneficial during a combat deployment, domestic military service, dealing with mentally ill patients, working with those under the influence of drugs, raising young children, and in educating younger students. The literature supports these anecdotal benefits. Chukwusa stated that “autocratic leadership could be beneficial in some instances, such as when decisions need to be made quickly… [or] …during military conflicts.” Chukwusa also suggested that “authoritarian leadership is best applied to situations where… …the leader is the most knowledgeable member of the group… [and] …could be especially functional for a team with inexperienced and/or unskilled members.”
Lee et al. described servant leadership as having “three key features: motive (other-oriented), mode (focus on follower growth), and mindset (concern for the wider community).” These key features are president in Merida in the leadership example of Elisha.
Merida noted that Elisha spent years serving Elijah prior to leading in his own right. This extensive service becomes an immutable aspect of his personality. Sousa and Van Dierendonck detailed “four dimensions of servant leadership… …essential for the shared leadership context,” empowerment, humility, accountability, and stewardship, characteristics we observe in Elisha. Elisha empowered his servant Gehazi to minister to a dead boy (2 Kings 4:29) and his humility is on display throughout scripture—every story about Elisha is about someone else to whom Elisha is ministering. Elisha holds others accountable, whether the boys who mocked him (2 Kings 1:23-25) or Gehazi who tried to deceive him (2 Kings 5:20-27). Finally, Elisha meets Sousa and Van Dierendonck’s definition of stewardship, “stimulating others to act in the common interest and… …take a viewpoint that focuses on the good of the whole.”
Transformational leadership would also have worked well for Elisha. Keskes et al. stated that transformational leaders “create a connection with followers, attend to their individual needs, and help followers reach their potential.” These behaviors and outcomes align with Elisha’s leadership goals and make a strong case for the role transformational leadership could have played in his ministry.
Effectiveness in Modernity
Servant leadership is extremely popular in research because of its perceived effectiveness. Lee et al. found that servant leadership “goes beyond increasing followers’ growth and well-being and elicits performance-related behavior.” Additionally, Lee et al. recommend organizations develop their existing leaders into servant leaders and “aim to select servant leaders into influential positions.”
Burns defined transformational leadership as a construct in which “leaders and followers make each other to advance to a higher level of moral and motivation.” Merida described Judah’s king Josiah as “the ideal king” who “follows the Shema wholeheartedly, surpassing even Hezekiah in his devotion to the teaching of Moses.” This description indicates Josiah’s elevated levels of morality and motivation.
2 Kings 22:2 states that Josiah “did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.” Josiah was already a successful king, but finding and reading God’s Word transformed his life and reign. Bottomely et al. stated that “Transformational leadership encourages followers to focus on a common goal or mission, generates intrinsic motivation and inspires them to ‘go the extra mile.’” 2 Kings 23:1-25 describes all of Josiah’s efforts to restore true worship in Judah. It is more than one man could accomplish, and the magnitude of this mission indicates that his followers joined him in it. Once they had removed the desecrations and resumed appropriate worship, Judah “went the extra mile” by celebrating the Passover, an event that had not taken place since before the reign of King Saul (2 Kings 23:21-23). Josiah was in the literal and theoretical senses, a truly transformational leader.
The servant leadership model would also have worked well for Josiah. Lee et al. state that “servant leadership is based on the fundamental premise that servant leaders are primarily driven by empathy, altruism, and a sense of community stewardship.” Josiah’s genuine concern for the well-being of his subjects lends itself well to this style of leadership.
Effectiveness in Modernity
Holten et al. stated that “transformational leadership has “consistently been demonstrated to be associated with positive employee effects and performance.” Additionally, Holten et al. stated others’ claims that “the defining transformational leadership behaviours are… …outstanding and have robust effects.” Transformational is an effective leadership style in the contemporary world.
Merida offered much in the study of leadership. From King David to the Babylonian exile, Israel and Judah had good kings, bad kings, wicked queens, and mighty men of God serving as prophets. These leaders exhibited qualities which the Bible preserves for the edification of generations who will study them. In learning from their leadership examples, “…we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
Bottomely, P., Mostafa, A. M. S., Gould-Williams, J. S., & León-Cázares, F. (2016). The impact of transformational leadership on organizational citizenship behaviours: The contingent role of public service motivations. British Journal of Management, 27(2), 390-405. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8551.12108
Chukwusa, J. (2018). Autocratic leadership style: Obstacle to success in academic libraries. Library Philosophy and Practice, 1.
Holten, A., Bøllingtoft, A., Carneiro, I. G., & Borg, V. (2018). A within-country study of leadership perceptions and outcomes across native and immigrant employees: Questioning the universality of transformational leadership. Journal of Management and Organization, 24(1), 145-162. https://doi.org/10.1017/jmo.2017.2
Holy Bible, New King James Version. (2020). Thomas Nelson (Original work published 1982).
Keskes, I., Sallan, J. M., Simo, P., & Fernandez, V. (2018). Transformational leadership and organizational commitment: Mediating role of leader-member exchange. The Journal of Management Development, 37(3), 271-284. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMD-04-2017-0132
Lee, A., Lyubovnikova, J., Tian, A. W., & Knight, C. (2019). Servant leadership: A meta-analytic examination of incremental contribution, moderation, and mediation. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 93(1), 1-44. https://doi.org/10.1111/joop.12265
Lu, J., Zhang, Z., & Jia, M. (2019). Does servant leadership affect employees’ emotional labor? A social information-processing perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 159(2), 507-518. https://doi.org/10.10070s10551-018-3816-3
Merida, T. (2015). Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings. B & H Publishing Group.
Schaubroeck, J., Shen, Y., & Chong, S. (2017). A dual-stage moderated mediation model linking authoritarian leadership to follower outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(2), 203–214. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000165
Sousa, M., & Van Dierendonck, D. (2016). Introducing a short measure of shared servant leadership impacting team performance through team behavioral integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(JAN), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02002