There are no two leaders in the Bible who provide a greater contrast in leadership styles than the first two kings of Israel: Saul and David. I have often said that David learned more about leadership from Saul than he did anyone else: Saul taught him how not to lead. For the most part, David learned his lessons well and today, 3,100 years after he reigned, the nation of Israel still calls itself the people of David. I would say that indicates David did a pretty good job!
I was reflecting once on the differences between Saul and David to identify lessons for my own leadership growth and understanding. Here are some contrasts I found. There are probably more, but these are the ones I discovered.
- Leaders raise up other good leaders. Saul had one mighty man (David), while David attracted, developed, and released many mighty men.
- Leaders learn to serve others. Saul never learned to serve anyone; David served others, even Saul when he was pursuing David to kill him.
- Leaders must draw on multiple skills to be effective. Saul was one-dimensional (he was a great warrior); David was multi-dimensional (warrior, musician, poet, administrator, prophet).
- Leaders do not rely on their gifts or God's presence alone. Saul was anointed but then did nothing to develop himself. David was anointed but spent the rest of his life developing himself.
- Leaders must have courage. Saul was fearful from the time he was anointed, but David learned to recognize and function in the midst of fear.
- Leaders have a relationship with God's Word. Saul was never a spiritual man, but David loved God's word and helped write it! Saul's anointing had no roots in God's word; David's did.
- Leaders allow suffering to play a role in their development. Saul spent his career trying to avoid or alleviate his suffering, while David learned from his ordeals—and even wrote poems about them.
- Leaders seek guidance from others. Saul sought no one's input until when he sought illicit wisdom from a witch at the end of his life. David constantly sought God's face and direction.
- Leaders deal with their anger and are self-controlled. Saul ruled and controlled others through temper tantrums and intimidation; David ruled through compassion and love.
- Leaders know themselves and how they work best. Saul used a sword and armor to protect himself, and assumed David would do the same. David rejected Sauls armor and used a sling with no body protection to get the job done.
- Leaders do not serve themselves. Saul never understood this but David served others even when Saul was seeking to destroy him.
There are more lessons such as David learned from history ("I have killed the bear and lion"), Saul did not. Saul was vindictive, but David was forgiving and gracious. David was a worshiper, but Saul had no such mindset. If you are a leader, go over these lessons and spend some additional time studying to see what you can learn from David's leadership example as well as Saul's—keeping in mind that Saul's lessons are mostly on how not to lead.