Nehemiah is a favorite historical leader. He mobilized a discouraged and disappointed people to achieve a perceived impossible goal. The perceived impossibility was the rebuilding of the wall that surrounded the city of Jerusalem. The wall lay in ruins. And there was an attitude it would remain that way.

The twitter version is that Nehemiah made his way to Jerusalem. He equipped and empowered a beaten down people to rebuild the wall. Not only did they rebuild it, they did so in a record 52 days.

An event is recorded in Nehemiah’s memoirs where he had to resist being distracted from the task. The wall was very close to being completed when some of the project naysayers attempted to compromise his focus. They wanted him to stop his work and join them for a meeting. Nehemiah said to them, “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?”[1]

This identifies a common leadership challenge: Distractions. There is much that attempts to distract a leader. Pressures, people and problems can contribute to a leader stopping and stepping down from the work. Leaders need to adopt the attitude of Nehemiah that pushes back on distractions.

It should be noted that Nehemiah understood those attempting to get him away from his work did not have his best interest in mind. “I realized they were plotting to harm me.”[2] This made it much easier to shun the potential distraction. But regardless, principles can be identified that will help you avoid leadership distractions.

What can be done to help a leader avoid the distractions that may get him to stop and step down? Too many leaders stop short of their greatest contribution as a result of buckling to distractions.

First, you have to be convinced you are about a great work. Nehemiah knew that he knew what he was doing mattered. “I am engaged in a great work.” Nehemiah’s deep sense of conviction kept him at the work. Nehemiah’s deep-seated commitment allowed him to resist the distraction. Nehemiah’s ability to see the end result empowered him to stand against the temptation to stop.

How convinced are you that what you do matters? How aware are you that you are about a great work? Helen Keller said, “True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but fidelity to a worthy purpose.”[3] If you do not believe you are involved in a worthy purpose your pull toward self-gratification will distract you.

Second, put the distraction on the defensive. Nehemiah refused to rationalize his staying with the task at hand. Instead he forced them to validate the importance of their request. “Why should I stop working and come and meet with you?” Great question!

How often do you feel compelled to explain to others why you won’t meet with them? How often do you believe you must convince someone of the validity of your work? Typically this is rooted in insecurity and a need for validation.

Know who you are. Know what you do. Know why you do what you do. Be purposeful in living out your why, and force others to provide a reason for the distraction.

Potential distractions come with leadership. The more effective a leader becomes the more distractions are placed in her path. Apply the lessons from Nehemiah and refuse to allow the distractions to define you.
[1] The Book of Nehemiah 6:4, New Living Translation of the Bible.

[2] The Book of Nehemiah 6:3, New Living Translation of the Bible.

[3], accessed February 4, 2014.