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The Teachable Leader

The Old Testament tells a story of an army commander who received a strange instruction. Although this man was highly favored in the eyes of his king, he suffered from leprosy and was in need of a cure. The King inquired on his behalf and then sent him to the prophet, Elisha, who was known as a healer.

To his credit, Commander Naaman and his entourage took the journey to find the prophet. Upon arriving at his door, however, Elisha (seemingly unimpressed by the commander and his court) did not even come out to greet him!

Instead, he sent his servant to tell the commander to go and dip seven times in the muddy Jordan River in order to receive his healing.

Incensed by this dual show of apparent disrespectthe prophet's failure to come out and acknowledge the military leader, and his insistence that the general go and dip in dirty water, he swiftly turned away from the messenger and started to head back home.

But before Naaman became hardened in his decision, his servants approached him gently and asked him to reconsider. They said,

"My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, 'Wash and be clean?'"

These words stopped Naaman in his rage. He rode to the Jordan River, dismounted, and then followed the prophet's instructions to the tee. Upon exiting the muddy water, his disease was healed.

There are several things that we can learn from Commander Naaman. The over-arching message is that the best leaders are teachable. Even when offended, or dug in on a position, they're open to other perspectives, and they can be convinced to change.

Naaman was a teachable leader. Here are four things he did well.

1. He had an inner circle. Naaman surrounded himself with subordinates who could speak truth to his power. In this instance, Naaman didn't need to hear what he wanted to hear, i.e., that he was justified in storming out of town, based on a perceived (but nonexistent) insult.

He needed the truth, as tough as it may have been to give it or for Naaman to receive it. And that's what he got. Every leader needs an inner circle of truth-tellers.

2. He listened to his people. There was nothing preventing Naaman from continuing in his rage. Indeed, others would probably consider it a sign of weakness for the great commander to relent. But he listened to his people.

As Stephen Covey shared in his landmark, "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People," great leaders seek first to understand before being understood. All great leaders are great listeners.

3. He accepted correction. Naaman went beyond listening to his team. He came over to their side of the issue. He dropped his wounded pride at the supposed snub by the prophet. He got down in the muddy water.

I imagine it wasn't easy to back down after that great show of indignation, but Naaman did it. Great leaders must be humble enough to accept correction. Leaders who place themselves above correction, are ticking timebombs.

4. He took action on good counsel. Naaman didn't waste any time acting on his counselors' advice. He could have listened intently, but then waited until the crowd was gone to take action, in order to save face.

Instead, he acted immediately. One of the hallmarks of all great leaders is the ability to take decisive action. Once Naaman decided to heed good advice, he followed through with his feet.

Great leaders are action-oriented.

In light of Naaman's story, how teachable are you? Take these four lessons from the commander and you'll become the leader you are destined to be!


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