Army Colonel Tom Cordingly said, “When I served at Fort Knox, the executive officer I worked under would plan the strategy and then turn to me and say, ‘Make it so, Tom.’ I was his right-hand man, the make-it-so guy. I found more satisfaction in the right-hand-man role than in leading. I’ve come to the conclusion: Give me a good man to work for, a man I love and respect, and I’ll be happy.”
In this text, we find such a relationship—a leader named Deborah and a make-it-so guy named Barak. Deborah was a prophetess and a judge. Barak was the general of the Jewish army and military commander.
While we never may be invited to a class on how to follow, this story in the life of Israel provides us with ample insight and instruction. From the life of Barak and his relationship with Deborah, we learn what it means to follow well.
Find a Leader who Follows the Lord
Follow the chain of command in this story. At the end are 40,000 Israelites, then 10,000, then Barak, then Deborah with the Lord leading. Each understood his or her role. Each followed appropriately, but success was found because at the front was the Lord. To reverse the order, we find Deborah, the leader, following the Lord. Barak could follow her because she was following the Lord.
Don’t Seek to Compete with the Leader; Complement Him or Her
It’s like a marriage: The husband and wife have mutual submission; they are not in competition with one another but rather complement one another. Leadership is participatory. Leaders and followers exist in a mutually beneficial relationship in which each adds to the effectiveness of the other. Deborah understood her role. Barak understood his. The warriors understood their roles. They all needed each other. They complemented each other, and victory was gained. Good followers complement their leaders by using their gifts (Leaders, while gifted, don’t have all the necessary gifts to accomplish all tasks.); speaking affirmation (Leadership can be lonely and discouraging, thereby needing affirmation.); displaying loyalty (Leaders need dependable followers); and extending support (Leaders without followers only are taking a walk; without followers, leaders will fail.)
Stand in the Gap
Deborah had the vision but lacked the military insight and manpower to defeat the enemy. She needed Barak, a make-it-so guy, to stand in the gap to fill the void. Leaders have needs, weaknesses, shortcomings, imperfections. They need loyal and dedicated followers to fill the gaps in their efforts.
Being a follower doesn’t mean you stand around and do nothing until the leader tells you what to do. Leaders provide the overall plan, the vision, but followers execute. Good followers know what to do without being told. Barak once given the battle plan then had the initiative to execute those orders to ensure victory. He didn’t just do something, he did the right things.
Pray for Your Leader
The leader you follow faces a contentious enemy. For Barak, it was Jabin’s army with 900 iron chariots. For Christian leaders today, it is the world, the flesh and the devil. Pray that your leader will be faithful when tempted, steady when attacked, firm when needed.
In the book Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, Donald Phillips examines the character, behavior, attributes and attitudes that made Abraham Lincoln our most honored and revered president. When Lincoln took office in 1861, he found that the United States was unprepared for war. The union had an insufficient, poorly trained and poorly equipped army of only 16,000 men under the command of 75-year-old Gen. Winfield Scott.
As the war was fought, Lincoln went through general after general for three years before he finally found a man who was responsible, a risk-taker and (most importantly) made things happen. Lincoln could not have won the war without Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln was the leader, and Gen. Grant was his chief subordinate. It wasn’t until Grant was added to the mix that Lincoln and the Union Army found victory. In Grant, Lincoln found a follower who was strategic, aggressive, creative and took initiative.