Two Influencers a Wise Leader Will Avoid

Two Influencers a Wise Leader Will Avoid

“Choose your friends wisely,” my mom said.

At the time her advice sounded overprotective and patronizing, but the older I grew, the more appreciative I became of this simple truth. I’m now repeating the same mantra to my 7- and 9-year-old sons in hope they will understand the power of this choice—sooner rather than later.

Choosing and empowering the right people within a leader’s organization is as critical as choosing the right friends and influencers in his or her personal life.

People can and often do make or break the best of leaders.

Think that’s an overstatement? Let’s look at an incredible leader we are all familiar with, King David, and a specific moment during his reign that seldom gets told. This is an account of how David allowed two influencers to adversely impact his leadership and his effectiveness.

He Killed Lions and Giants

When David first comes on the biblical scene, we immediately know he is someone special, someone whose life has been marked for an extraordinary purpose.

From a very young age, David exercises boldness and confidence in the Lord – confidence that older and much more seasoned leaders of his time lacked.

David’s early accomplishments as a leader were marked with moments like:

  • Slaying the Philistine giant and defying the Philistine army, despite everyone saying it was an impossible task.
  • Honoring King Saul and showing him loyalty, even though Saul intended to kill him.
  • Spending a decade in wilderness as an “outlaw,” although he had already been chosen and given the title of king!

As David’s story progresses, we finally see his position change from outlaw and renegade to the ruler and rightful King of Israel!

Now David is finally in a position of strength. He is in charge. He has authority. Will he continue leading through complete reliance upon and trust in God, as in his wilderness days? Or will David be influenced, manipulated and ultimately used by others who appear to be “on his side”?

Two Influencers a Wise Leader Will Avoid

Before we go any further, let me paint a picture of what’s happening.

After Saul’s death, David’s role as a king is finally official. No more hiding, no more running. But as David assumes his role as the ultimate authority, there are still two camps that viewed David’s authority differently. The tribe of Judah pledged its allegiance to David, while the eleven northern tribes, known as Israel, still sympathized with Saul (or actually Saul’s surviving son, Ish-Bosheth).

In 2 Samuel 3:1 we read: “The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.

In the midst of the conflict, two men come on the scene and begin to leverage their association with David for selfish gains. One of them is Abner, the commander of Saul’s armies. The other is Joab, the commander of David’s armies.  

The impact that Abner and Joab eventually have on David’s leadership provides us with a tremendous lesson on how important it is for leaders to surround themselves with the right kind of influencers within their organizations. 

It's crucial that leaders surround themselves with the right kind of influencers.

The Consummate Opportunist

Opportunist: a person who exploits circumstances to gain immediate advantage rather than being guided by consistent principles or plans.

Abner has been faithful to Saul’s house and “has been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul.” (2 Samuel 3:6)

He is also very quick to realize that as David’s position is getting stronger and stronger, he is on the “wrong side” of the conflict. Abner cleverly uses personal conflict between him and Ish-Bosheth as an excuse to switch alliances and sends this message to David: “Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.” (2 Samuel 3:12)

Abner is what we would call a “consummate opportunist”: an individual whose loyalty and allegiance are determined by personal benefit and selfish motives.

We can recognize the Abners (the opportunists) in our lives, because they always want to be on the winning side and will use words, flattery and manipulation to achieve their goals.  

In his book, Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson looks at Abner and Joab as they creep into David’s life to pursue their own agendas.

Peterson writes this about Abner:

“Abner is the consummate opportunist… He gradually realizes that that the future is with David and works out diplomatic ways of turning over the northern tribes (Israel) to David so that he can be assured a leading place in the new government. Abner uses religious language to support his schemes. Abner is smooth. Abner knows how to use the name of God when it serves his purposes.”

The Selfish Ideologue

Ideologue: someone who very strongly supports and is guided by the ideology of a particular group; an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology.

Joab, unlike Abner, is a “consummate ideologue.” He will eliminate all opposition threatening to disrupt his ideology, with or without his leader’s blessing. Because Joab considered Abner an enemy (doubly so because he had killed his younger brother), he seizes the opportunity, takes matters into his own hands and executes Abner.

Here’s what Peterson has to say about Joab:

“Joab, on the other hand, is the prototypical strong man. He kills first and thinks later. He’s also what we would call an ideologue: he serves an agenda that’s right—in this case David and God’s anointed—and so there is nothing further to discuss… Joab simply gets rid of what he perceives as the opposition in the quickest and most effective way he knows.”

For us, Joabs (the ideologues) are often dogmatic, blindly partisan, and use their position of strength and influence within the organization to disrupt and achieve their perceived end results, often without any regard for the leader.

He Killed Lions and Giants…So What Happened?

In the biblical account of David’s reign during the times of Abner and Joab, we find this telling quote from David:

And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me.” (2 Samuel 3:39)

Wait just a second!

Is this the same David who, as a young boy, stared at the undefeated Philistine armies, picked up a stone and killed their mightiest warrior, despite the ridicule of everyone else around him?

Is this the same David who killed lions with his bare hands, knowing the Lord was with him?

Why, now, being in the position of strength and authority, is he losing his bearings?

The answer is simple. Abner and Joab, through manipulation and deceit, crept into David’s life, earned his favor and eventually harmed his ability to lead – at least for a season.

As Peterson puts it, both Abner and Joab weren’t “by common definition enemies: both if challenged, would claim to be on David’s side…But they’re not fundamentally interested in God’s work in David: rather, they’re interested in how David can further their work.”

A Simple Solution

In summary, Peterson issues this warning about the Abners and Joabs in our lives:

“Because they ‘think’ they’re on our side, we also assume that they are. But that assumption gets no biblical confirmation. Abner and Joab bear watching. Means are important. God’s work can't be done other than on God’s way. Exploitation (Abner) and violence (Joab) aren’t God’s way.”

So what can leaders do to protect themselves from warped influencers?

The solution may sound too simple and too obvious, but a daily time of communion with the Father in prayer and in His Word is a great strategy. By spending uninterrupted time with God, we can hear His heart and receive His wisdom and direction.

By spending uninterrupted time with God we hear His heart and receive His wisdom.

It’s not some magic pill; rather, it’s the greatest weapon we have against the enemy’s schemes. Aligning our hearts with God’s, through those moments of solitude, will make us wiser and give us the insight we need to lead with foresight and prudence. 

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Megan Pacheco

Megan Pacheco

Megan Pacheco is the Chief Learning Officer at Lead Like Jesus. Born and raised in Poland, Megan moved to the U.S. at 17 and after finishing her studies, she started work in the faith-based sector, where she has served for over 13 years. She comes with years of experience in product development, marketing and alliances and is passionate about using her God-given talents to advance the cause of Christ. Megan is a writer, and her content on issues like personal finances, money and marriage and  raisingchildren have been published by More Living, Yahoo Finance, AllParenting, FoxBusiness, DailyFinance, and Crosswalk. Megan is married to David and they have two sons, Joshua and Daniel.