Nehemiah as an Example of Project Manager

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Published on International Journal of Social, Politics & Humanities
Publication Date: May 28, 2019

KOLAWOLE Oladotun Paul & ADELODUN Jeremiah
Department of Religious Studies, Olabisi Onabanjo University
Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Nigeria

Journal Full Text PDF: Nehemiah as an Example of Project Manager.

Project management is a human activity that is integral to the development of the society and even the church. Thus, project management is an issue that is worth discussing; its importance and significance cannot be overemphasized. The book of Nehemiah reveals that execution of a great project and the character ‘Nehemiah’ as someone who ultimately demonstrates several elements that are essential as an effective project manager; this makes the person of Nehemiah relevant to this research. In view of this, the research engages Nehemiah’s personality, words and actions as a theoretical framework for this discourse.

Keywords: Nehemiah, Leader, Project Manager.

1. Introduction
In the fifth century B.C., during the height of the Persian Empire, the Jews were living in exile in the heartland of the empire (Esther 5:9-11). The Sovereign God; however, had different plans for His exiled people. Through prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the Lord God had declared that He would one day restore the covenant people to the promised land (Jer. 33:7-9; Ezek. 36:24-28). The Old Testament Books of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah chronicle events surrounding the Lord’s restoration of Jewish exiles to the Promised Land.
The book of Nehemiah opens with the account of Nehemiah receiving a report about Jerusalem’s distress that its walls are broken and its gates are on fire. Nehemiah was no preacher or pastor; he was a Jewish cupbearer to a king named ‘Artaxerxes’, who reigned from the city of Susa. Nehemiah acquires the king’s favor, and goes to Jerusalem with the king’s letters giving him safe passage and resources from the king’s forest. (Neh 2:1-10). This understanding opens Nehemiah to the commencement of a mighty project which is to be executed. As a result, this work presents a discourse on Nehemiah as a good example of project manager.

2. Nehemiah: A Great Leader and Manager
God rose up Nehemiah to accomplish an important mission; therefore, God is the active agent leading and directing. This is evident in how He moves in the king’s heart and elevates people to do his bidding. This is seen in both the lives of Nehemiah and his contemporary, Ezra. Nehemiah demonstrates the indisputable role of Providence in leadership. This is still true today. There are no shortcuts in leadership. The meteoric rise of leadership studies and the attention that many leaders attract may cause some to miss the simple fact that leadership is challenging. Nehemiah exemplifies the interplay between prayer, planning, and hard work; if which this three attributes is integral to project management.
Although Nehemiah faced a daunting project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, this project was secondary to the plight of the people. Nehemiah is regarded as the wall builder in Jerusalem, and this is the theme that resonates in the book. But his story is not only about building the physical walls of Jerusalem for physical protection, it is also a story of building spiritual walls around the people with the Word of God and thus building up the people as well. Therefore, Nehemiah managed the physical project which significantly affects the spiritual project of Jerusalem.
The skillfulness of the character of Nehemiah as a leader and a project manager is observed by the researcher at the cradle stage of the project. Nehemiah opened his heart to the king. He first addressed the king with respect and then expressed his deep concern in the form of a question. The presentation of the question gave the king latitude either to abruptly end the conversation or to graciously seek to help his heartsick servant. Nehemiah referred to Jerusalem as the place where his ancestors were buried.
From a clear perspective, Nehemiah carefully chose his words, framing his concern in nonpolitical and nonreligious terms. In doing so, he calmed any potential suspicions. Instead of immediately telling the king what he wanted to do, Nehemiah sparked the king’s compassion and understanding. A godly leader keeps leading even when the projects end. Certainly Nehemiah faced adversity and conflict in the midst of building the wall, a task that required fortitude to see to completion. When the wall was built, he continued to lead through political means as a governor. In view of this, the research further elaborates the background of this discourse (revealing what actually transpired in the preparation process) in the next section of the research.

3. Background to the Discourse
Nehemiah held the servant role of cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of the Persian court in the capital city of Susa. In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah learned from his brother Hanani, who visited him that the Jews who survived captivity were quite distraught because the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and its gates were ruined by fire (Neh. 1:1–3). Nehemiah was a man with a mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The news of the disrepair of Jerusalem, the once beautiful city of David and Solomon, brought sadness, spurring him to do something to right this terrible tragedy. By the virtue of the captivity, Nehemiah was clearly in no position to do anything in Jerusalem. Yet God had positioned him in just the right place to accomplish this mighty work.
Four months elapsed from the time Nehemiah received the news about Jerusalem until he had an opportunity to speak to the king. What did Nehemiah do during those four months? Nehemiah 1:4 suggests that he continued to pray and looked for an opportunity to help. The researcher assumes that he thought about ideas for getting the wall rebuilt what materials would be needed, how to acquire them, and where to rally the workforce. He wanted be ready when God showed him the right moment to act. During the month of Nisan (the first month on the Jewish calendar), Nehemiah was carrying out his normal duties as cupbearer. Wine had been delivered, so Nehemiah tested it before giving some to the king. He always performed this duty with a good attitude, because it was standard practice to enter the king’s presence with a pleasant demeanor. This time, however, the king recognized that his normally happy cupbearer was heartsick about something. A sudden wave of panic washed over Nehemiah. He had violated the cupbearer’s code of conduct. It was an uncharacteristic lapse in his work ethic. But it was also an opportunity to trust God and to explain his situation to the king.
In view of this, Nehemiah’s work was accomplished through an active prayer life, providing a vision to his followers, using his closeness to King Artaxerxes to receive help, role modeling, adaptability, and foresight. Nehemiah paid close attention to his followers’ needs and was tenacious in accomplishing his goals. As a result, Nehemiah’s role changed from that of royal cupbearer to governor of Judah because he utilized multiple leadership strategies in accomplishing his project goal (rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem).

4. Nehemiah’s Project Managing Skills
The book of Nehemiah was not written to be a manual for spiritual leadership or project management; it is important to note that Nehemiah was a spiritual leader and a project manager. Thus, the book of Nehemiah is somewhat unique in the meticulous details provided by the narrative; meaning that God does desire us to see how the task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s city wall was accomplished and how Nehemiah managed that great project.

4.1 The Provision of a Vision
Leaders are individuals who have “a clear vision of the future state of their organizations. This vision helps direct followers toward a common goal and empowers them with knowledge that they form a vital component serving to accomplish that goal. Nehemiah had his vision in mind; he clearly communicated it to others. Communication of vision is a starting point for the commencement of a project. In other words, people must actually understand and get a glimpse (sometimes, they might not understand it all) of what the over-all project manager has in mind Hence, the problem of the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem and the disgrace felt by the survivors of the exile is solved by Nehemiah’s vision of rebuilding those walls.
Therefore, this vision was not merely stated to King Artaxerxes, but to the people of Jerusalem, of whom he garnered support. Three days after arriving in Jerusalem, he said, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (Neh. 2:17). He assured them that God graced him with the plan and Artaxerxes backed him. Their response to Nehemiah’s vision was greeted positively, “Let us start rebuilding,” they proclaimed (Neh. 2:18). The people needed to hear Nehemiah speak about his vision. This means that people are not motivated by project but by leaders who inspire them opening their eyes to certain understanding through their uttered speeches on the project to be commenced.
At the heart of leadership is communication between God and the project manager, which is Nehemiah. In this case, the project manager can be referred to as the leader. Therefore, a leader must know God’s purposes for a group before he can communicate them. Upon receiving word of the exiled Jews’ distress, Nehemiah immediately asked God for discernment. In Nehemiah 1:4, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. for some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” By praying and fasting before taking on such a monumental task, he was able to seek the counsel of the almighty prior to embarking on the responsibility of assisting the Israelites. Nehemiah realized that “prayer is a necessary leadership habit that enhances communication with God and secures vision for ministry.”
While in the presence of King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah prayed before responding to the king’s question of what he wanted. It was immediately following this prayer that Nehemiah received his vision for the ministry. He answered Artaxerxes, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, and let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it” (Neh. 2:5). Of course, Nehemiah did not end his prayers after receiving his vision for the restored future of Jerusalem. He continued to ask God for guidance and help throughout the project work. Nehemiah received his power through God, the source of all power and might. The entire restructuring of Jerusalem was enveloped in the power of prayer, as evidenced in how often prayers are lifted up within the entire book of Nehemiah.

4.2 Power
Often times, people who have the prerogative of managing a project have access to power. Therefore, the dispensation of power in their jurisdiction means a lot to the success of project. Nehemiah’s position as the royal cupbearer to King Artaxerxes allowed him the ability to exercise influence on a king’s policies. Nehemiah did what successful leaders do; he used that leveraging power to his advantage. Artaxerxes was aware that Nehemiah was a man of character and integrity, so he granted his requests to return to Judah, as well as giving him letters of reference and a government grant for building materials.

4.3 Planning
The requests of letters for the “governors of Trans-Euphrates” and for “Asaph, keeper of the royal park” (Neh. 2:7-8), demonstrated forward-thinking strategic management acumen. This takes place to “observe and interpret the interaction of forces that might affect the project and all that are connected to it. By evaluating possible risks ahead of time, Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem with a plan prepared for the task at hand.