Nehemiah: Motivation and Change

Nehemiah is an excellent Old Testament exemplar for motivating followers.  Effective leaders are aware of how important motivation is so followers develop a sense of personal ownership.  One of the best ways for building ownership is to have people participate in establishing the goals and then enable them to make their best contribution for reaching the goals.  Here are some examples of how Nehemiah effectively motivated the people he served:

Working with the followers to set priorities.
Sacrificing financially.
Taking courageous stands against opposition.
Working for justice—reforms.
Building upon competitiveness, pride—each family rebuilding a portion near them.
Modeling perseverance.
Using extreme focus for a limited time; people totally committed to see progress.
Affirming those who are participating in the work.

From his life we can draw some principles about motivation:

1.  Effective leaders are aware of motivational techniques to use with their followers.
2. Successful change agents know their followers well. Opinion leaders should be identified and their support cultivated toward the changes being attempted.
3. Modeling perseverance in the face of difficulties is a strong motivating factor.
4. Use various influence means to accomplish the task.
5. Use affirmation to motivate followers.
6. Leaders in ministries must have a clear sense of receiving their work from God, for they are called to influence followers toward God’s purposes, not their own.

Knowing his work was from God, as evidenced through the phrases, “the Lord put it in my heart,” and, “the hand of my God upon me,” gave Nehemiah the firm conviction that enabled him to motivate followers, to motivate himself, and to persevere in spite of constant opposition.  Motivation is clearly a key to bringing about change, and one neglects it to his or her own peril.

There is nothing more satisfying than for a person to make progress toward a desired goal.  When personal contribution is aligned with organizational priorities there is a clear win-win.  In recent years, coaching has become a preferred means to help people identify how they can best contribute to mission tasks by tapping into intrinsic motivation. Although the term coaching was not used back in Nehemiah’s day, the concept can be seen throughout the book.  Most people in any stage or walk of life respond well to a coaching conversation.  You might find this short Harvard Business Review article on leadership and coaching insightful.

Motivation and change are inseparable if getting things done is important.  The better we can identify and engage people’s heart motivation, the more they will find satisfaction while advancing some common cause.  I think this well-known leadership guru agrees: “You can’t manufacture passion or “motivate” people to feel passion.  You can only discover what ignites your passion and the passion of those around you.”  (Jim Collins, Good to Great. p. 109) May we grow in our ability to lead in a motivational way that produces deep change.

For a good read on motivation consider: Influencer: The new science of leading change. (2013).

Next Blog: Nehemiah Review








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