One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about leadership over the years is this: leadership is influence, and true influence comes through serving others. In fact, the Book of Daniel in the Bible includes a lot on the subject of how to be a good leader. Here’s a little context.
In Leviticus 26:33-39, God threatened Israel with exile if they were disobedient and served other gods (spoiler alert—they were, and they did.) The Babylonians, led by king Nebuchadnezzar, took over Jerusalem in 605 B.C. The Book of Daniel takes place during the beginning of this exilic period. In the beginning chapters, Daniel doesn’t look like much of a leader in the traditional sense. He was an exile who was taken from his family and people. Though he was being trained as a servant, he really functioned as a leader.
In this blog post, I will highlight 4 lessons we can learn about how to be a good leader from the Book of Daniel in the Bible (Chapters 1-6). We will survey the character and actions of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (commonly known by their Babylonian names—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) to learn how they influenced culture in the most unlikely of circumstances.
“Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.” Daniel 1:3-4
The favor of God is attracted to a spirit of preparation. Daniel prepared by equipping himself with knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. He was one of the best, which was why the chief eunuch chose him. (However, at the time, being chosen might have not seemed like a good thing.) Still, as we will see, Daniel made the most of his situation. As previously mentioned, Daniel was known to have “an excellent spirit.” (Daniel 5:12, 6:3) He leveraged his skills and unfortunate exilic position for the glory of God.
What small steps can you take today to pursue excellence? How can you steward your current season well (and prepare for the next one?) Knowing how to be a good leaders starts with getting knowledge today. With the commitment and help from the Lord, understanding and wisdom will follow.
2. Be Set Apart
“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.” Daniel 1:8
The Babylonians sought to assimilate the Israelites into their culture. That’s why they chose the best young people in Israel, immersed them in a Babylonian environment, and trained them for service in Babylonian court. Daniel didn’t have much control or say in the situation. However, he did what he could to remain faithful to his God and his people. So, Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refused to eat the food that was contrary to Jewish dietary laws. They controlled what they could control. They set themselves apart.
The scripture says that the eunuch who was in charge of the Israelite youths was nervous he would get in trouble if he let Daniel and his friends refrain from the king’s food. Daniel asked the eunuch if they could do a test run for 10 days—if they looked weak, they would stop their fast. Here’s what happened to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah after those 10 days:
“…it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food” […] “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” […] “And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in the kingdom.” Daniel 1:15, 17, and 20.
There was no reason why Daniel and his friends would’ve been fatter after only eating vegetables for ten days. Here’s the lesson: make yourself holy and God will do the supernatural in your life. We create the space and God fills it. In other words, when we commit to God’s will, He ensures that we have everything we need to succeed. Where God guides, He provides.
3. Serve (When a Door Opens, Walk Through It)
The Book of Daniel recounts how the King of Babylon at the time, Nebuchadnezzar, was having bad dreams that nobody could interpret. In fact, they were so bad that he was going to kill all of the wise men of Babylon—including Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So, Daniel, having confidence in God and his gift of interpretation, courageously offered to help the King. He succeeded.
Here’s what courageously seizing a God-given opportunity will do:
“Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:46-48)
The King gave God the glory, blessed Daniel, brought him gifts, and granted him influence. Notice that Daniel gained influence through service. He served the King, and he served hundreds of others by preserving their lives. This was no simple service—he put his life on the line.
Godly influence will not spread in the world through invasion. It will come through invitation. In the same way that a good leader doesn’t aim to control a people, a ‘conquer’ mentality is not an effective evangelical tool, either. Like Daniel, our leadership goals should be to grow in excellence, serve others, and put God above all else.
4. Change Culture
Through Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah’s faithfulness and obedience, kings professed the goodness of God. King Nebuchadnezzar, who built golden idols to himself and threw people in fiery furnaces, praised God, saying, “It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the most high God has done for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:2-3)
Then, after Daniel escaped from the Lions Den, King Darius wrote to several nations, “I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion, people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the Living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end.” (Daniel 4:26)
I can’t help but get excited when I think about how our world would change if the Body of Christ applied the lessons from the Book of Daniel. Imagine a world where the Body of Christ was committed to excellence and service in the areas where God has gifted them. For Daniel, it was literature and understanding visions and dreams, but for others it might be teaching, administration, business, IT, the culinary arts—you name it!
Have confidence in God. Prepare and pursue excellence. Be set apart and courageous. Serve. Then watch as God uses your life to influence culture for His glory. In due time, a person of influence will invite you to have a seat at the table. Your knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and relationship with God will create ripples that turn into waves. People from near and far will be able to taste and see the goodness of God through you.
What is something you’ve learned from scripture about how to be a good leader? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!