I heard a cultural reference to the biblical character Samson the other day and it got me thinking about the story. I decided to revisit what I recalled of it from childhood Sunday School lessons.
As a small child, the story is of a strong man whom God favors, and who – even though blinded and bound – is able to defeat his enemies. A closer, more intentional read of the whole story tells a much different tale and shifts the takeaway significantly.
Samson was born to a couple who had been childless for many years, and feared they would never have children. The Israelites are in captivity in the land of the Philistines (40-year captivity) and an angel appears to the woman and promises her a son. There are “rules” of course as there are whenever an angel appears with a message.
3 The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. 5 You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”Judges 13
Due to the nature of his birth, and the desperate circumstances of the Hebrew people (who believed that he would deliver them from the Philistines and captivity), Samson appears to have been spoiled as a child and his temperament did not improve into adulthood.
His relatively short life was marked with petulant deeds (tying foxes together and lighting them on fire), and poor decisions driven by his desires. The evidence that he was perpetually indulged culminates in his final fate – being captured, blinded and imprisoned by the enemy of the Hebrew people.
He has a documented habit of being with women outside of a sanctioned relationship, and appears to be so needy for their attention that the last one he met (Delilah) talked him out of his greatest secret in short order, resulting in his demise. So much for the great hope of the Israelites.
The story of Samson is not the story of men being foolish (although it could be) as much as it is a tale of warning for those who anoint leaders. In organizations religious, spiritual and secular there is a tendency to put all our hopes, dreams and future stakes in the hands of someone whom we believe can rescue us.
Too often, the story is like Samson’s. These “saviors” are entirely too human, and being human (prone to mistakes) in combination with being anointed as some sort of messiah is a lethal move – and it’s lethal on two planes.
The first problem is that the very-human “Samsons” are susceptible to believing that all the hope and adoration heaped on their heads by the organization they are now leading is well-deserved. Too many of them get cocky and lose the ability (if they indeed ever had it) to look critically at themselves and see the areas where they need help, or where others may have more experience, expertise or wisdom.
This, coupled with the ga-ga eyes of those in the organization who anointed them, is a fatal combination. Too often, the blind trust in this “savior” extends for far too long. By the time it becomes impossible to overlook “Samson’s” faults, lack of skill and bad behavior; it is too late and the organization faces peril.
Some will survive and recoup their losses, while others will survive but never return to the place they once held; still others will not survive. History’s ledger is littered with the names of organizations taken down by poor leadership choices.
The first step to avoiding the disasters that inevitably come when we invite someone to lead an organization as a “savior” or answer to all our problems is to stop right there. If there are fundamental issues that prevented our organization from growing, expanding, becoming profitable or otherwise improving – the “answer” may or may not be a new leader. But we have the responsibility to be clear-eyed before proceeding.
A new leader at Blockbuster (with the same focus of in-store DVD rentals) would not have saved the business; a new leader at Border’s (insisting on selling DVDs and physical music media when the world had moved on to digital) would not have saved them, either.
New leadership must be coupled with good business sense and the ability to make hard decisions that benefit not only the person getting paid, but the entire organization.
Samson was so consumed with his own needs that he neglected his mandate from birth (to save the Hebrew people from the Philistines) and hastily gave his secrets to Delilah. His own personal needs superseded the needs of the many and this is one of the WORST traits to have in a leader. Sadly, it is also a common one.
Another option for avoiding a Samson is to look around and see if the depth, wisdom, experience and ability already exists within.
Is it hard work? Yes.
Does it sometimes mean that we have to sacrifice sacred cows? Indeed.
Will we have to let go of some things we don’t want to let go of? Again, yes.
But life is a “big picture” project and sometimes, we have to let go of the death grip we have on the old in order to allow room and space for the new things to come – things which may feel foreign, but that align with our overall goals.
The story of Samson is a story of false hope, entitlement, and foolish, misplaced trust. It’s also a reminder that the process of saving ourselves and our organizations should not wait for for some external, likely-flawed Samson.
The work is ours to do. And when we stop waiting in the desert for “Samson” – some anointed answer to problems that are ours to solve – we’ll find success; especially when we recognize at last that we had the power to save ourselves, all along.
(C) 2020 Practitioner's Path