Leading Alone

I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. Genesis 6:17-18

One of the most difficult tasks a leader faces is to lead alone. A Harvard Business Review study reveals that nearly 70% of first-time CEOs experience loneliness so acute that it affects their performance.[1] The reality of leadership is often a set of crucial decisions for which the leader bears the weight and responsibility. The leader, acting with their best knowledge, and in the best interest of the organization, sometimes faces stepping out into a direction for which he or she has little or no support, much less an understanding of what is at stake. Do you feel lonely at the top?

Such was the situation facing Noah in Genesis 6. Noah is a man leading his family, and who found favor in the eyes of God, in the middle of a world God saw is utterly wicked. So God shares some inside information with Noah—He is going to destroy the earth by flood, and nobody will survive. Except for Noah, and his family, who have to build a giant boat to avoid the impending disaster. And fill it with animals. The plan sounds crazy, yet we paint it on the walls of children’s bedrooms all the time.

What made Noah a great leader? Not just that he obeyed God. Many people throughout history have heeded the words of God. No, what made him memorable is that he was willing to lead out alone. How many others, when faced with such a decision, would start building the boat? Yet Noah did it. The Bible indicates that it took years to build the ark. What did everyone around him think, seeing that giant boat being built of wood, for years on end, with no flood in sight. And what leadership lessons can we take with us today from the story of Noah and the ark?

Noah did everything just as God commanded him. Genesis 6:22

Trust in someone. Leading out alone still requires trust. In Noah’s case, he placed his trust in God. And so complete was his trust that he was willing to do what God told him, despite never having done it before, and having no visual evidence of an impending flood. Is there someone in your life that you trust completely? Someone who gives you good guidance, every time? The kind of guidance on which you can stake your reputation? Your life?

Evaluate the naysayers. Everyone around Noah looked at him as crazy, odd. Yet Noah was working with more information and from a higher source. Leadership can be lonely in part because those who aren’t leading also aren’t informed. When those around you question your decision or direction, consider where their opinion comes from. Are they talking out of their knowledge of the situation, and how full is that knowledge? Or are they stating opinion based only on what they can observe, in limited fashion.

And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. Genesis 7:12

Follow through. The moment of decision in the life of a leader is not nearly as important as following through. Because a decision is only as good as the action that is taken on it. A decision without action is nothing more than wishful thinking. Because Noah did as God commanded, the ark was built. When the flood waters came, Noah lived. You may also observe that Noah was vindicated. But vindicated in front of who? All of his peers died, the earth was destroyed. The reward for Noah’s leadership is that he survived to lead another day.

[1] https://hbr.org/2012/02/its-time-to-acknowledge-ceo-lo