Joseph, Joshua, Gideon, and Nehemiah, four Godly leaders in the Old Testament, each faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Of course, seemingly insurmountable and impossible obstacles are rooted in our human perspective. Under the authority of God, each of these leaders rose to the challenge before them, proved themselves to be jealous for the reputation of God, and demonstrated exquisite integrity. Each of them did something else: conducted an assessment of the context in which they were to provide leadership.
These Godly leaders served in different contexts, at different times in history, and in the face of different challenges. Their methods of assessment also varied. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41: 1-33). Joshua sent spies to scout out the land east of the Jordan River (Joshua 2: 1-23). Gideon sneaked up on the Midianite camp at night and overheard a warrior’s resignation of defeat (Judges 7: 7-15). Nehemiah surveyed the ruins of the wall around Jerusalem at night (Nehemiah 2: 11-18). Although these leaders used different methods, without exception, the contextual assessment was critical to their leadership effectiveness. They conducted their assessments as a prelude to the formulation of their plans of action—Joseph to prepare for seven years of famine, Joshua to conquer the Promised Land, Gideon to defeat the Midianites and their allies, and Nehemiah to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem.
Contextual assessment, from a biblical perspective, is an irrefutable principle of leadership. Even the legendary CEO of General Electric Jack Welch similarly touts its importance: “The art of managing and leading comes down to a simple thing, determining and facing reality about people, situations, products, and the acting decisively and quickly on that reality.”
Like any assessment, contextual assessment should be comprehensive, accurate, and impartial. First, the assessment should reflect on the entire context. Leaders should not partition off sections of the context as though these parts are unrelated to the entire context. Second, the assessment should be free of errors in interpretation. Once data gathering has taken place, leaders should not put their own spin on the details of the data. Third, the assessment should not be based on preconceived opinions and biases. Leaders should not determine beforehand the outcome of an assessment. Overall, the rule of thumb is to allow the data to speak for itself rather than leaders speaking for the data. The last thing leaders should do it to deny, distort, or minimize the reality of the situations they face. This would be the epitome incompetent leadership.
Given the importance of contextual assessment, leaders need to ask God for sound judgment, wisdom, and intelligence. A variety of tools and methods are available to leaders, but remember that each context requires its own assessment strategies. Then they should be quick to reverence God. Remember Joseph named his sons Manasseh and Ephraim, both names as a special tribute to God. Joshua commanded the Israelites to purify themselves. Gideon bowed in worship before the Lord. Nehemiah led the Israelites in spiritual revival. In my experience, this aspect of leadership is a weakness among many individuals who hold leadership positions. They fail to get the big picture, let alone failing to have the opportunity to reverence God for enlightening them. I submit that many leaders undermine their effectiveness by conducting incomplete, inaccurate, and partial assessments of context.