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David and Absalom: Influence
Leadership is all about influencing others. But there are different ways that influence is used by leaders. David and Absalom both had influence; people followed them. However, the way they gained and used influence shows the contrast between servant leaders and subversive* leaders.
David won the hearts of people; Absalom stole their hearts. The record states about David,
He won over the hearts of the men of Judah so that they were all of one mind (2 Samuel 19:14). But Absalom used another approach.
4 And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.” 5 Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel (2 Samuel 15:4-6).
David earned his influence. He fought the lion and the bear and then defeated Goliath. He led military campaigns and accomplished significant victories for the nation. He built his influence on deep, committed relationships. (See one example in 2 Samuel 23:15-16.) As he did so, he won the privilege of influencing their hearts. The hearts of the people rightly belonged to David who had achieved much for the nation.
Absalom did nothing to earn influence, he
“stole the hearts of the people.” He said,
“If only I were appointed…” making promises about what he would do if he were the leader. Absalom was secretive and some who followed him were not even aware of his intentions to take the throne from David (see 2 Samuel 15:1). Absalom’s efforts to gain influence were based only on his desire to lead.
Subversive leaders make promises to gain influence; servant leaders allow their performance to increase influence. Servant leaders win the hearts of their followers; subversive leaders steal their hearts.
David based influence on character; Absalom based influence on charisma.** David spent his energy seeking to be the right person; Absalom spent his energy trying to gain a position. Those who followed David learned to respect his heart and character. His followers saw him refuse to kill King Saul even when presented with the opportunity. They watched him show kindness to Mephibosheth when there was nothing politically to be gained from that act. He based his actions on what was right, not on what would increase his power. With each demonstration of character, his influence increased.
In contrast, Absalom’s character was revealed when he killed his own brother, set Joab’s fields on fire, and plotted a rebellion against his father. He used words of flattery and deceit to win people to his side. Absalom relied on his appearance and natural charisma to gain influence.
In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him (2 Samuel 14:25).
David was concerned about what God thought of him; Absalom was concerned about what others thought about him. Servant leaders base their influence on character; subversive leaders base their influence on charisma.
David’s influence was permanent; Absalom’s influence was passing. In the short-term, the leadership tactics of Absalom appeared to be succeeding. He gained a following of over 200 people even before he declared himself king. As long as he appeared to be heading towards power, people followed. But his influence ended as soon as his rebellion failed. When Ahithophel saw that the rebellion would fail, he committed suicide (2 Samuel 17:23). During the final battle, Absalom’s troops left him hanging from a tree as they fled for their own lives and he died alone (2 Samuel 18:9-15). His death demonstrates that stolen hearts will never belong to a leader forever.
In contrast, those who followed David nearly all stayed with him even in his darkest moments when he was fleeing from Jerusalem. Their relationship with him was not based on his position but on loyalty. His influence was permanent; Absalom’s was temporary.
Leaders who steal the hearts of people and base their influence on charisma may see short-term success but will never last. Servant leaders build influence that is permanent; subversive leaders settle for short-term gains.
On what do you base your influence as a leader? Take a moment to reflect on the questions below and follow David’s example of genuine influence.
Until next time, yours on the journey,
Reflections for Servant Leaders
*Subversive means to seek to undermine or destroy an established system. A leader who is subversive intends to overthrow the established authority to take power for themselves.
**Charisma is natural attractiveness or charm that causes others to move towards a person. Some persons naturally have more charisma than others. This is not bad as long as it is not used as the basis for influence.
In the next issue, we’ll look at how David and Absalom responded to authority.
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