The book of Daniel contains several famous stories, and at their core is a group of servant leaders. Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were taken from their homes and brought to Babylon where they were required to serve their conquerors. Despite the hopeless situation they found themselves in, they remained faithful to God through everything, and we can learn several leadership principles from them.
In the first chapter of Daniel, we learn about the king’s program to develop leaders from the countries he had conquered. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all chosen for this program and begin their training.
They were very quickly confronted with a moral dilemma – the King provided them with food that did not align with the laws of Israel. Daniel and his friends had a decision to make: would they remain completely faithful to God? Or would they let things like food slide?
Daniel 1:8 gives us our answer: “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego joined with Daniel in making this resolution. If I had to guess, I would say that they had all made this resolution long before unclean food was served on their plates.
It’s much easier to maintain integrity when you have resolved to do what is right before the temptation arises. As a student going to college, I knew people who had resolved not to drink before they reached the legal drinking age. It was much easier for them to say “no” when drinks were offered because they had already made the decision. On the flipside, those who never really thought about their decision or were simply undecided were far more likely to break the law.
Throughout Daniel, you can see their moral resolution remain firm. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to the idol in Daniel 3:18. In Daniel 6, Daniel continues to pray to God, even if it means he will be thrown into the Lion’s Den.
Our culture is, sadly, filled with leaders who have had major moral failures. This negatively affects their ability to lead and the trust their people had for them. If you want to be a great leader then, you must follow Daniel’s example and resolve to do what is right, even when no one else around you is making the same decision.
2) Respect Others
Even though Daniel and his friends declined the king’s food, I really appreciate how they did it in a respectful way. Here is their exchange:
Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Daniel 1:8b-12
Daniel’s first request is met with favor and compassion, probably because he wasn’t a jerk about it. The King’s servant pushed back and explained his fears, and then Daniel offered a solution. Daniel wouldn’t risk the eunuch’s head, instead he would risk his own, and then only for a few days.
After the ten days, Daniel and his friends were in better health than anyone else, and so the King’s servant put everyone else on the same diet. This never would have happened had Daniel not resolved to do what was right, and then gone about it in a respectful way.
There are many believers today who get the first part right – they resolve to do what it is right. But then, they’re jerks about it to everyone else. This is not an effective form of evangelism or leadership. Instead, we should follow the words of Romans 12:10b and, “Outdo one another in showing honor.“
3) Keep Developing Your Gifts
Because they were living in captivity in a foreign land, it would have been easy for Daniel and his friends to wallow in mediocrity. Thes weren’t their dream jobs, so why bother?
Despite their circumstances, they chose to continually develop their skills and become the best at their jobs. In almost every story, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego receive credit for being like no one else.
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 all his kingdom. Daniel 1:17, 20
Even as youths they dedicated themselves to learning and building their skills. Their work and dedication obviously paid off, because by the time we get to Daniel 6, things haven’t changed much.
Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Daniel 6:3
Great leaders continue to grow and develop their gifts. This starts with a relationship with God that drives spiritual growth, but also includes dedication to your craft or calling. You may not be in an ideal situation or you may find yourself tired of doing the same role, but great leaders persevere and continue to find ways to grow.
4) Recognize Where Your Power Comes From
As you might expect, Daniel and his friends recognize where their power comes from. When King Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel if he can interpret a dream for him, here is what he says:
Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Daniel 2:27-28
Daniel gives the credit to God, here and throughout the book of Daniel. This is in stark contrast to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 and his son, Belshazzar, in Daniel 5. Despite Daniel’s warnings, Nebuchadnezzar finds himself bragging about how amazing he is. God decides that enough is enough, and so he drives the King insane. Nebuchadnezzar lives like a wild animal for 7 years until his sanity is restored to him and he finally recognizes where his power comes from.
Belshazzar wasn’t as lucky – his arrogance led to his kingdom being taken from him in Daniel 5.
Leadership is a position of power. It is vital for servant leaders to remember where that power ultimately comes from. When we begin to revel in our own glory instead of offer it properly to God, we put ourselves and our people at risk.
5) Speak with Wisdom and Tact
In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar loses his temper, and I mean he really loses it. He gets so angry with his wise men that he orders all of them to be killed! Fortunately, Daniel intervenes. When he hears about the decree, his response is worth noting:
When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. Daniel 2:14 (NIV)
Daniel’s wisdom and tact pay off, he gets the opportunity to go before the king and appease his anger. Before going, he and his friends all pray together and “plead for mercy from the God of heaven.” By the end of their conversation, Nebuchadnezzar is so happy he basically worships Daniel – a big shift from wanting to murder him and all of his friends.
I have held on to those words for years – “wisdom and tact.” I’ve faced some difficult situations in work, with friends or family, and in my community. But I’ve never had to speak with someone who has come to my house to kill me.
Daniel’s model still applies, even when the stakes are lower. Anytime I face a difficult situation with another person, my prayer is that I would speak with wisdom and tact. I need God’s help with this, because I’m not naturally wise or tactful. Entire books could be written on how to do this, but ultimately speaking with wisdom and tact starts with allowing God to work in your heart, active listening, compassion and understanding, and a desire to see the best possible outcome.
6) Spiritual Accountability
Throughout Daniel, we can clearly see the benefits of having spiritual accountability:
Daniel and his friends resist unclean food together in Daniel 1
Daniel and his friends pray together for help interpreting the king’s dream in Daniel 2:17-18
Daniel asks the king to appoint Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as administrators over Babylon to support his work in Daniel 2:49
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to worship the image of gold together in Daniel 3:16
Daniel holds the king accountable and calls him to repent in Daniel 4:27
While it is certainly possible to remain faithful in the face of evil by yourself (see Daniel 6, where Daniel goes to the Lion’s Den alone), it’s much easier when you have friends. For many christians today, they go to church and have community groups, but these relationships only go so deep. We need a small group of friends who will ask us the hard questions – how is your marriage going? How are you leading with integrity at work? Are you spending time with God? What are the idols in your life?
Daniel and his friends spent the majority of their time with people who did not believe in their God. In fact, the Babylonians frequently mocked their religion and commanded them to go against God.
All of us will spend time amongst non-believers. Some will be respectful of your beliefs, and others will not. That is why it is key to have strong relationships with people in your life who believe what you believe and will encourage you to remain faithful and do what is right, even when it hurts.
7) Desire the Best for Others
In Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that disturbs him greatly. He calls Daniel in for help with the interpretation of the dream, but Daniel realizes it does not bring good news:
Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! Daniel 4:19
This is part of a major theme in Daniel – how to live as an exile. Through some of the earlier examples of leadership, you can see that Daniel and his friends refuse adopt Babylonian ways that go against God. At the same time, they still work for the good of those in Babylon. Daniel cares for the king and wants the best for him, he works for the peace and prosperity of his new home.
It would have been tempting for Daniel to laugh at the king, and to tell the king he is finally getting what he deserves. Instead, he mourns for the king and calls him to repent before he receives his judgment. It doesn’t work immediately, but eventually, after God humbles him, Nebuchadnezzar does repent.
Great servant leaders care about their people and desire the best for them. You may not agree with the politicians in power in your community or nation, but God still calls you to pray for them and honor them. You may not like your co-workers, but God still calls you to work for their benefit and not their harm. You may have difficult neighbors, but you are still called to love our neighbor as yourself.
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves in a difficult situation. They were taken from their homes and forced to serve the very king who conquered their homeland. They were faced with every temptation, but through it all, they remained faithful to God.
They served and led their entire lives, working to point people towards God and seeking the best for those they encountered. They provide us with several powerful examples of leadership, and I hope they help you grow as a servant leader yourself!
What’s your favorite part of Daniel? Leave a comment below!