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Unique Negative Leadership Traits of Three Old Testament Kings

We Three Kings

“The message of 1 Kings is decline and 2 Kings is fall (Dever, The Message of the Old Testament)” (Merida, 2015). The human leadership, the kings chosen by God and given charge over Israel, were laden with blessings, and at the same time, fraught with sin and moral weaknesses. Each of these factors directly impacted their leadership and the kingdom as a whole. “…the people were “weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36)” (Merida, 2015). By highlighting several examples from a select set of these rulers, including David’s insecurity or lack of confidence, Solomon’s greed, and Rehoboam’s intimidation (bullying), a pattern of poor choices and behavior emerges that ultimately leads to the fall of Israel.

Excessive Empathy

Before exploring the three selected kings, it is important to understand an overarching theme that emerges for (almost) all of the kings - excessive empathy. “Trait empathy reflects a tendency to feel concern for others, to understand others’ internal states, and to feel congruent emotions with others (Decety & Jackson, 2004; Koopman et al., 2020)” (Simon et al., 2021). This may have driven the reluctance to destroy the places of pagan worship, and even drive some of the kings to participate in this heretical behavior. “We regularly read about what each king did with the “high places” or idols. Did he tear them down or not? The kings are judged based on this all-important matter” (Merida, 2015). This may have also caused a lax understanding of the need for righteous judgment and correction. “…David doesn’t reprimand Adonijah. He never disciplined him, as a father must do” (Merida, 2015). Reprimanding someone, righteous reprimand, is a blessing to both the message sender and the receiver. As Psalm 141 reminds us, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001) Too often, not just in contemporary times but throughout history, leaders have viewed correction, or negative feedback, as, well, negative, but this is not the case. “Negative feedback is a specific type of performance feedback that conveys information about employee weaknesses or inadequacies and makes salient areas that are in need of improvement (Chen et al., 2007). Negative feedback is, therefore, a vital resource that facilitates performance improvement by providing cues that corrective action is needed to meet performance standards, goals, or expectations (Brown et al., 2016; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996)” (Simon et al., 2021).

David’s Insecurity/Lack of Confidence

“David slew giants, killed lions with his hands, conquered kingdoms, and nurtured sheep. Now he is dying, feeble, and powerless. His declining life illustrates the declining nation itself” (Merida, 2015). Unfortunately, it seems that David’s faith became nested in his own abilities and achievements rather than in his true source of power, God. With physical ailments, the general loss of physical strength associated with the aging process, and perhaps the degradation of cognitive capabilities (again, driven by a decline in the physical brain), David lost faith in himself, he became increasingly insecure, and instead of allowing this experience to turn his heart back to the Lord, he worked desperately in repeatedly failed attempts to rectify the situation himself. This is a hazardous venture and a mistake. He forgot the lesson he clearly understood when facing Goliath, “…your identity isn’t bound up in what you can do. Your identity is in who God has made you to be in Christ…don’t let your inabilities lead you to despair” (Merida, 2015).

Succinctly defined in contemporary terms, David’s experience and reactions could be described as an onset of job insecurity. Not a good thing for a king, especially God’s chosen king. In fact, it’s quite dangerous. “…job insecurity is likely to trigger abusive supervision…when individuals experience work–family conflict and abusive supervision, they are more likely to suffer from emotional exhaustion as a result of resource loss (S. Lee et al., 2018; Liu et al., 2015)” (Qian et al., 2020). This insecurity was emulated by Rehoboam and some of David’s other descendants as well and was (then) and remains (today) a descriptive trait of bad leadership. “The leadership literature is replete with admonitions that successful leadership requires confidence” (Moore, 2021). This also affected his communication with his family and his subjects. “Expressions of confidence also likely affect the degree to which the sender is understood by receivers to be committed to her statements. Expressions of confidence are ubiquitous in human communication, be they verbal (“I′m sure,” “I guess,” etc.) or non-verbal (gestures, tones, facial expressions)” (Vullioud et al., 2017). David lost confidence in himself after misplacing his faith in his abilities, which were given to him by God. He lost sight of the source of his confidence, and ultimately, the kingdom fell (temporarily – until Christ’s victory was achieved on the cross).

Solomon’s Greed

““All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. Adam Smith (1776/1937: 448)” (Takacs Haynes et al., 2017).

Solomon’s wisdom is the focus of numerous sermons because we can learn from his positive choices, decisions, and strategies. His greed, however, can advance our intellect and our spirit of leadership as well. He developed a seemingly insatiable lust (arguably a form of greed) for women, wealth, and a host of other associated earthly pleasures. “He was the wisest man alive, yet he made some foolish and destructive choices (like having 700 wives!)” (Merida, 2015).

What is greed, exactly? “Dictionary definitions of greed include (a) excessive or rapacious desire, particularly for wealth or possessions (Collins English Dictionary, 2010), (b) excessive desire to acquire or possess more than one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth (American Heritage Dictionary, 2000), and (c) intense and selfish desire for something, predominantly money or power (Oxford Dictionary, 2010)” (Takacs Haynes et al., 2017). Solomon’s greed included physical pleasures (his “army” of wives), recognition (his architectural accomplishments), and yes, the classic desire for excessive financial resources. “While Solomon’s trading practices probably continued to bless the people, it seems that we have another example of Solomon watching out for his own interests more than the interests of others…we read less about the people and more of Solomon’s wealth…” (Merida, 2015). This emerging negative focus on selfish desires did not go unnoticed by his subjects and may have caused significant dissent throughout his kingdom. “…conventional wisdom would suggest that leader greed, defined as the perception that one’s leader has pursued or acquired an excessive amount of resources at the expense of or cost to others (Gilliland & Anderson, 2011, 2014), is likely to evoke followers’ negative emotional reactions (Crossley, 2009; Gr´egoire, Laufer, & Tripp, 2010) and therefore be detrimental to effective work-group functioning” (Carnevale et al., 2021). More succinctly put, “…when leader greed harms followers’ self-interest, followers are likely to experience anger, defined as intense feelings of displeasure, frustration, and antagonism (Lindebaum & Geddes, 2016)” (Carnevale et al., 2021). Solomon, in all his wisdom, fell into a greed-driven spiral that fueled his corporal pleasures but unfortunately, starved his soul. His decisions, his emulation of this horrible trait (in leadership or elsewhere), contributed to the downfall of Israel.

Rehoboam’s Intimidation

Rehoboam demonstrated acts of bullying and intimidation. “He says, “My father made your yokes heavy, but I will add to your yoke.; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with barbed whips (v.14).” He behaves like Pharoah, increasing the burdens after hearing a plea for relief (Exod 5:1-21). And with this, you can hear the kingdom shredding” (Merida, 2015). This is not a new phenomenon, and Rehoboam did not invent this terrible practice. “History shows that many political regimes have been dominated by antisocial leaders who are not averse to using state-sponsored intimidation including torture and murder” (Gilbert & Basran, 2019).

This type of leadership trait requires constant application in order to maintain efficacy. Dominating any group of people by using fear (or intimidation) is needlessly risky and highly effort dependent, and surprisingly, not incredibly effective when compared to alternate, more encouraging leadership styles. “…maintaining dominance and power by aggression and intimidation will need to stimulate fearful submissive states of mind, rather than open aggressive counter attacks in those around them. Prosocial leadership styles, on the other hand, will try to create states of mind, where others voluntarily and willingly follow and provide support and share resources (Barkow, 1980, 1989; Gilbert et al., 1995; Nesse, 2007)” (Gilbert & Basran, 2019). Contrast Rehoboam’s leadership style to the perfect leadership of Christ. He said something quite different. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001).

Intimidation is still a recognized worst-practice, even in the commercial sector where a “no-holds barred” is often (incorrectly) expected. “Some employers bully their workers, which can take the form of insulting, ignoring or scorning them, not crediting their work, imposing unrealistic work demands, hypercriticism, insulting remarks, assigning them to demeaning or senseless tasks, social isolation, verbal threats, spreading rumors, deriding the private lives of employees and undermining their good name (Blase & Blase, 2006; Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2011). The main bully is the employer himself (Einarsen, 2000; Einarsen & Raknes, 1997)…” (Klein & Bentolila, 2019).

Learning by Example

Remember, as stated at the outset of this article, “The message of 1 Kings is decline and 2 Kings is fall (Dever, The Message of the Old Testament)” (Merida, 2015). Excessive empathy, insecurity or a lack of confidence, greed, and intimidation (or bullying) were clearly demonstrated in God’s own appointed kings. These are human conditions, human traits, and overcoming or avoiding these pitfalls is uncommon in our history. Jesus is the perfect King, the only man who could live without these vices, and He showed us a better way, a life filled with decisions and traits to be admired and emulated rather than avoided. We can still learn from Israel’s imperfect kings, but only if we carefully study and critique their failures alongside their victories. This makes it simpler to see that depending on God is the only way to achieve success. Living outside of His will leads to disaster.


Carnevale, J. B., Carson, J. E., & Huang, L. (2021). Greedy for thee or greedy for me? A contingency model of positive and negative reactions to leader greed. Journal of Business Research, 132, 897-905.

English Standard Version Bible. (2001). ESV Online.

Gilbert, P., & Basran, J. (2019). The Evolution of Prosocial and Antisocial Competitive Behavior and the Emergence of Prosocial and Antisocial Leadership Styles. Frontiers Research Foundation.

Klein, J., & Bentolila, A. (2019). Principals bully teachers at schools: causes, examples, and consequences. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 22(6), 651-669.

Merida, T. (2015). Christ-centered Exposition Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings.

Moore, D. A. (2021). Perfectly Confident Leadership. Graduate Schools of Business Administration, University of California, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Qian, S., Yuan, Q., Lim, V. K. G., Niu, W., & Liu, Z. (2020). Do Job Insecure Leaders Perform Less Transformational Leadership? The Roles of Emotional Exhaustion and Trait Mindfulness. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 27(4), 376-388.

Simon, L. S., Rosen, C. C., Gajendran, R. S., Ozgen, S., & Corwin, E. S. (2021). Pain or gain? Understanding how trait empathy impacts leader effectiveness following the provision of negative feedback. American Psychological Association.

Takacs Haynes, K., Campbell, J. T., & Hitt, M. A. (2017). When More Is Not Enough: Executive Greed and Its Influence on Shareholder Wealth. Journal of Management, 43(2), 555-584.


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