Remarkable performance always grabs our attention. Whether it’s a CEO like Jack Welch or a ministry leader like Billy Graham, we are amazed at what they’ve been able to accomplish. Even if you don’t agree with their decisions, character, or practices, you cannot deny their ability to make things happen and perform with excellence. Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were such leaders. The Bible describes them this way: “Whenever the king (Nebuchadnezzar) consulted them on anything, on books or on life, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom put together.” (The Message) Can you imagine your boss, CEO, pastor, or the president making such a statement about you? So that raises a question–how did they become “ten times better leaders” than everyone else put together? Consider the following:
1. They Possessed God-Given Capacity – Daniel 1:4 describes what kind of men were to be picked to serve the king–“young men who were healthy and handsome, intelligent and well-educated, good prospects for leadership positions in the government, perfect specimens!” The first ingredient to becoming a “Ten Times Better Leader” is a clear understanding of God-given capacity. God created these young leaders with the capacity to serve in such a role. This doesn’t make them any better than anyone else. It simply raises an important insight–you will be “ten times better” in the areas where God has given you the greatest capacity to contribute. Your capacity is typically tied directly to your God-given gifts, abilities, knowledge, skills, and passions. I’ll address this more in a moment.
2. They Practiced Self-Control – Daniel and his friends demonstrated remarkable self-control. Daniel 1:8 says, “But Daniel determined that he would not defile himself by eating the king’s food or drinking his wine, so he asked the head of the palace staff to exempt him from the royal diet.” Many leaders today demand their rights, essentially dining at the table of perks, privileges, and power. Very few demand their responsibilities. But Daniel understood that God-honoring leadership comes at a price–one that requires self-control and self-discipline. Author and leadership expert, Jim Collins notes that the leaders of great organizations develop a culture of discipline. “Ten Times Better Leaders” control themselves from doing what they know they shouldn’t do and discipline themselves to do what they know they should.
3. They Welcomed Testing – The head of the palace staff was not keen on Daniel’s suggestion to be exempt from the diet. So Daniel was willing to be tested. “Try us out for ten days on a simple diet of vegetables and water. Then compare us with the younger men who eat from the royal menu. Make your decision on the basis of what you see.” (Daniel 1:12-13). Leaders today generally shy away from putting it all on the line. But Daniel not only accepted the idea of a test, he suggested the idea. He welcomed a test and made himself accountable for the results that would follow. “Ten Times Better Leaders” are not afraid to take risks and welcome the accountability that comes with it.
4. They Embraced a Lifelong Learning Posture – Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, did not take up a ten-day test and then get immediately promoted in the king’s service. After the test, the steward continued to feed them only vegetables and water. And how long did this go on for? Daniel 1:5 suggests their training was three years in length. These Israelites were not seeking a quick promotion by sticking it out for ten days. They had developed a lifelong learning posture that was mixed with discipline and testing. “Ten Times Better Leaders” never graduate learning.
5. They Developed and Deployed Their Gifts – The Bible notes in Daniel 1:17-20 that God had given these men knowledge, skill, and gifts. The deposit of a gift does not necessarily equate to the deployment of a gift. God deposited the gift within them, but Daniel and his friends had to grow in the gift and deploy it. Unfortunately, some people today never take the time to discover their gifts and therefore are unable to make a meaningful difference. You cannot be ten times better when you don’t know what it is God has gifted you to be better at. “Ten Times Better Leaders” hone in on the sweet spot of their gift mix and focus their energy, time, and resources where they can make the greatest contribution.
What about you? What will it take for you to become a “Ten Times Better Leader?” You might say, “That’s not the point–God never instructed me to endeavor to become ten times better than everyone else.” I would agree. But God has given us some clear instructions to practice self-control, respond appropriately to testing, become lifelong learners, and develop and deploy our gifts so that we can serve others effectively. When we do that, God tends to open the doors and take care of the rest. That’s what he did for Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.