A leader with a listening heart prospered his people

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 10, 2011

When so many leaders these days are determined to hold onto power at any cost and turn a deaf ear to the outraged cries of their people, there’s one leader of a Middle East nation who began his leadership on a very different note.

I’ll get back to him in a minute, but first some more responses to our recent series of columns on attentive listening.

Ontario coffee companion Marie Suthers e-mailed us the Internet link to an outstanding TED talk, “5 Ways to listen better,” by British sound expert Julian Treasure. Treasure describes how to “re-tune your ears for conscious listening – to other people and the world around you.” It’s worth a listen. Go to TED.com for Treasure’s talk here.

Then there’s this inspiring note from Calgary reader Debbie Faulkner, commenting on police chaplain Jim Amsing’s story in last week’s column on stillness in the presence of God:

“The insights and experiences of your column's contributors sparked an image in my mind of silence as an invisible cloak,” Debbie wrote. “If we wrap ourselves in silence, we begin to see the unseen, hear the inaudible, and connect with our own hearts as well as God's heart.”

Which brings me to one of my favourite leadership stories, about the Middle East king who cloaked himself in quietness before God and was given a listening heart.

Solomon, son of King David, was the third king of ancient Israel. He reigned in the mid-10th century B.C., about the time creative writing was grabbing the imagination of the cradle of civilization. (The biblical account of Solomon’s reign is recorded in the book of 1 Kings, chapters 1–11.)

When he ascended the throne as his father’s chosen successor, Solomon dealt quickly with family rivalries and regional differences that threatened to destabilize the nation. He brought Israel to the height of its glory, with territory that included much of present-day Syria and Jordan, and trade routes that extended to Africa, Arabia and Asia.

His policies both at home and abroad resulted in peace and prosperity. His wisdom won him the respect of all. His reputation as a resolver of conflicts, compiler of proverbs, and composer of romantic verse is legendary to this day.

All this, because early in his kingship he had his priorities straight. He proved this on one occasion in the stillness of the night.

In a dream, God appeared to him and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

What a golden opportunity for greed, arrogance and spite to rear their ugly head!

Solomon answered in a very different spirit, however. After acknowledging God’s kindness to his father and expressing gratitude for being able to fulfill his father’s dream for him, he said:

“I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number” – a people, I might add, who were not always loyal to his father.

At this point Solomon could have bought into the all-too-prevalent philosophy of “Don’t get angry, get even!”

But, no. Instead, he said, “Give your servant a discerning heart” – a listening heart – “to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”

God liked the way Solomon was thinking and said to him:

"Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”

This story of Solomon’s encounter with God reveals the humility of a leader who, at the start of his reign, desired above all else a listening heart so he could work, not for self-advantage, but for the well-being of his people. God did bless him materially, as well, of course. But first of all, his was the blessing of attentive, wise listening expressed in justice for all.

Yes, the fact that Solomon’s conversation with God happened in the still of the night resonates nicely with Debbie’s words about connection and the invisible cloak of silence.

But the conversation also reminds me of the words of King David. Solomon’s father understood well the positive impact of listening-heart leadership. Not long before his death, he said: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (2 Samuel 23:3–4).

May our leaders today also grasp the importance of listening-heart leadership for the dawn of a glorious new day for their people.

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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