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Chapter IX Deborah (Deference) Print E-mail
Written by Ray Fairman   

In Judges 4:1-16 we are going to learn a lesson from the distaff side of life as we learn about the leadership of Deborah a strong and respected Israelite leader.

Most of us are or should be aware of the fact that unspoken and informal leadership more often than not exists in all organizations. Whenever and wherever people congregate, you can almost always stand off and observe the posturing or testing of the waters so to speak. The strongest leaders, even when not officially empowered, will tend make a few tentative moves, assess the results, and prioritize their own impact then position themselves as they feel comfortable. By the time they finish you can easily recognize those people who will set the tone for and control the gathering. Merely by observing these resulting reactions even a casual observer can identify natural leadership. This is because it is normal for even leaders to follow leaders stronger than themselves.

I, therefore, am going to refer to Deborah's principle as the "Principle of Deference". We should all know that deference (also called Respect) cannot be demanded and neither does it come with authority or position alone; to be effective it must be both earned and freely given.

Continue Reading to find out more about this remarkable leader. 

Deborah had a way of demonstrating her leadership that earned her the respect of both men and women, something not easily accomplished by a woman in the culture of her time. Yet even military commanders sought her help. Let's take a look at how she gained this respect from her followers.

First you need to realize that deference begins not only with yourself, but also with those with whom you work. In Deborah's case people came from all over the land to have her settle their disputes. She was a judge who was well respected and whose opinions were also respected primarily because she respected her own actions and respected those with whom she worked and whom she served. She always demonstrated this in the ways in which she dealt with everyone she encountered.

Next you as a leader need to consistently set the bar for your own expectations higher and not lower. Always seek to exceed the expectations of others. Nobody at that time would have expected a woman to transform the way Israel lived. Nevertheless, Deborah raised the standard of living for the common man and returned the nation of Israel to peace.

Leaders, who desire the respect of others, will always be willing to go the extra mile, achieve victories one at a time and do it not for their own vain glory and reputation, but for the benefit of those they serve and lead.

You will also always need to stand firm vis-à-vis your convictions and the resulting decisions. Deborah exemplified the strength of her commitment when she agreed to accompany Barak to the battle even in the face of his doubts regarding the outcome. People will almost always respect a leader with strong convictions who will also join with them in the journey. It is always wise to remember that those who stand firm for nothing, will likely fall for anything. One excuse I hate to hear is "I think you are right, but I don't want to upset the boss, So... I just do what I am told." That sounds a lot like Nuremberg or Abu Ghraib to me.

Being respected requires a person to possess and exhibit high standards of maturity and security. Respected leaders like Deborah don't need to grab all the credit and glory for themselves. They are both mature enough and secure enough give just as much as they possibly can to those who actually do the work. Remember that you can ride to victory on the shoulders of those whom you serve, or be trampled beneath the feet of those you only command, the choice is yours.

Being respected does not mean that it is not acceptable to enjoy your personal success. Deborah had already seen success as a prophetess and as a judge before experiencing her success with Barak and his battle. As you and your career advance up the ladder of success, accept the rewards you earn, but accept them with humility and recognition of the greater service you can perform in your new position. But... never forget how your fingers once occupied the rung on the ladder of success beneath your feet.

Whenever it is possible, a good leader will contribute to the success of others. Deborah gave the people all they needed to succeed, a good and competent commander, the resources they needed and the infallible word of God that they would prevail. They listened, believed and relied on both her promise and her actions and won a victory over Jabin the King of Canaan. Just how well do you contribute to the success of your followers? Are you proud of their accomplishments or envious of them when they get recognition because of what they did? I hope for your sake you are not your own priority one, like so many others who parrot the phrase, " If I don't look out for number one, who will?" If you are your own priority one then it might be time to remember the concept of "Let him that would be first, be last." I also recall hearing something from the Bible that indicates it is always better to be called to the head of the table by the host than to be embarrassed when asked by the host to move farther from the seat of honor. I no longer need to toot my own horn; it like Deborah's will be tooted for me in heaven if I deserve it.

Thinking of others in advance is indicative of a leader's talent for strategic planning. This does not mean just a battlefield ability to quickly improvise, adapt and overcome, though that is an asset. No, this talent is even more indicative of the 6 P's (prior proper planning prevents poor performance). With the overall welfare of the people in mind Deborah gave Barak the command to fight, a strategic plan of battle and even accompanied him to the battle. She exhibited concern, wisdom, faith and vision. How easy she made it for the people to respect her leadership.

How you exercise your authority over people will also have a profound impact on your gaining the deference you desire and need to effectively lead others.

There are five levels on which leaders, in general, exercise their authority, so let's look now at these levels which, of course, I will put into a military format often referred to as the "5 P's of Respect".

The first "P" represents Position. A good leader is or should be aware that titles and positions provide the lowest and weakest level of leadership. If that is the sole basis for a person's authority, it will often result in subordinates who are following reluctantly and then only because they are being forced to. How many times have you yourself chaffed at being told, "You will do it because I'm the boss, and I said so". Maybe it was even put more bluntly, something like "it's my way or the highway." No matter how it comes across, authority exercised solely because of position s is seldom successful for an extended length of time.

The second "P" is for Permission. When followers grant their permission to a leader it indicates that there is a bond of trust being forged which will add support to the leaders position and title. This is how we should be operating in the law enforcement arena. We police by permission. Though, I will agree that it at times may not seem that way. However, if the citizens we serve were not willing to relinquish any portion of their personal or civil rights for the protection of others then we would be professionally impotent.  Our authority is based on the permissions provided by the majority of society. The abdication of these absolute rights will only come when the followers realize that you as their leader have their welfare as your primary consideration.

The third "P" is for Production. This next level of influence is reached when under your leadership, the people begin to accomplish preset objectives and share in the successes together. People are now following for what you can do for them, not what you can do to them to them.

The fourth "P" is for People Development. To reach this level of influence and experience one of the greatest of life-changing impacts you will ever know, you must help others reach the highest levels of their own potential. This may sometimes seem, to a weak leader, threatening, especially if the follower has a higher potential than you their leader can hope to achieve. Still when you reach this level, your focus should and must change from leading and inspiring to developing and encouraging leaders. This is the beginning of leaving a legacy and transitioning to a new vision.

The fifth and last "P" is for Personal. You can never reach this level on your own. Deborah is remembered as the mother of Israel not because she desired that title, but because of whom she was and what she did for the people of Israel and how she did it. Leaders who spend their time inspiring people, training leaders, developing organizations and concentrating their efforts on the welfare of those they lead will have the strength, respect and admiration that many others strive a lifetime for and never attain. Leadership by virtue of who you are is the highest level of authority available and the least often awarded.

As a 38 years as a United States Marine I recognize the contributions of all the other branches of the military, However, I do still take a certain amount of pride in the statement of President Ronald Reagan who said in 1985,  "Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The MARINES don't have that problem." Will you pick up that mantle of leadership and make a difference. Will you be a part of the future or a footnote in history?







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