David and Saul: How Our Backgrounds Impact Our Leadership

By: Diane Chandler
Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Lately, I’ve been considering the challenges of leadership related to personal identity, spirituality, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal dynamics.  Over the next few weeks, my blog topics will relate to areas of leadership and spirituality. 

Specifically, what causes us to stand during the exercise of leadership when we are misunderstood, resisted, attacked, and rejected?  How does the spiritual life of the Christian leader inform such times?  And when we are in supportive roles to leaders and are rebuffed, how can we process these disappointments?  Can anyone relate to these challenges?

If I were to interview King David related to his leadership challenges, he would have much to draw upon, beginning with his volatile relationship with King Saul.  David had been anointed by the prophet Samuel as future king, became Saul’s armor–bearer, and killed Goliath.  He bore all of the marks of a strong emerging leader.  He was bright, gracious, bold and confident in the Lord, musically gifted, and honored authority.  Oh, and did I mention nice-looking?

As the first king of Israel, Saul was quite insecure about his role (i.e., he was hidden in the baggage and had to be brought out to be anointed king) and jealously reacted to the attention lavished upon David after slaying Goliath.  The women’s chant, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands,” did not bode well for Saul; wherein Saul concluded, “What more can he get but the kingdom?” (1 Sam. 18:7-9).  Jealousy became the stronghold that opened the door to evil spirits in Saul’s heart, which eventually contributed to his downfall.

When David wanted to genuinely serve God and Saul, what possessed Saul to want to kill him (notwithstanding an evil spirit)? Allow me suggest one way of viewing their relationship that integrates psychology and leadership perspectives into some kind of sense-making that provides further insight into the 1 Samuel narrative.

Psychologists inform us that  styles of attachment in infancy and childhood impact how we view others in adulthood, including those in authority and the world in general.  Based on the ground-breaking work of psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, who examined care-giving during infancy, three primary attachment styles have been identified:  (1) secure, (2) anxious/ambivalent, and (3) avoidant.  First, those with a secure adult attachment style generally possess positive self-esteem, healthy self-confidence, and feel well-liked among peers. Second, those with an anxious/ambivalent adult attachment style typically have low self-esteem, a heightened sensitivity to rejection by others, and may expect to be devalued.  Third, those with an avoidant adult attachment style do not trust others, prefer isolation, and expect others to be insensitive, unsupportive, and unresponsive. 

My hypothesis is that Saul had a very anxious/ambivalent adult attachment style that persevered throughout his lifetime. On the other hand, David had a secure attachment style, primarily forged early in his life during times with God, who repeatedly protected and delivered him from Saul and others who sought his demise. This secure attachment to God (as his ultimate Care-giver) gave David a strong personal identity as God’s beloved and the place where David ran to when troubles rose. David drew upon the Lord’s love throughout his leadership journey as his primary source of love, comfort, protection and identity (more on that in next week’s blog).

Rejection in the exercise of leadership (as one who exercises leadership or one who follows) can be a deeply painful experience.  The result?  We mercilessly blame ourselves and/or experience a huge wobble of personal identity and confidence without understanding the spiritual, emotional, relational dynamics at work among all parties. 

When you review your past or present leadership challenges, how might understanding yours and other’s attachment styles assist you to put these challenges into greater perspective?

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Diane Chandler
This entry was posted by on Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 at 5:00 am and is filed under Christian Leadership, Church Ministry, Holistic Formation, Leadership, Spiritual Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses to “David and Saul: How Our Backgrounds Impact Our Leadership”

  1. Joyce Ojiaku says:

    I can pinpoint one word that was Saul’s problem – Jealousy. Dr Chandler rightly diagnosed Saul’s issue, “Jealousy became the stronghold that opened the door to evil spirits in Saul’s heart, which eventually contributed to his downfall.” Indeed, the stronghold of jealousy reveals how centered one is on other people rather than on God. The spirit of jealousy traps one into un-Christ-like attitudes toward other people for whom Jesus died. And these attitudes can erupt into verbal attack through gossip, or insinuation, or slander.

    This stronghold causes people to approach God through their mind, not the Spirit. Satan knows that a confused and skeptical person is easy victim. Does this happen in our day and time in leadership? Sure. Can this be solved? Yes, How? We must all go back to the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, jealousy was one of those sins He loudly cried…it is finished. Paul in (Gal 2:20) portrayed himself as crucified with Christ. No Matter how ugly the situation looks, we must remember that Christ died for that individual suffering with this spirit of jealousy and we need to pray for him/her for deliverance.

    Great and thought-provoking post Dr. Chandler!

    Stay blessed~
    Joyce Ojiaku

  2. Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:


    I appreciate your responding to my blog posting, where you highlight the debilitating effects of jealousy ~ an invisible cancer that not only consumes emotional/spiritual energy but debilitates those in its grasp.

    And I hope what came through my posting is what may contribute to jealousy ~ especially related to leadership ~ regarding how secure or insecure we may be related to signficant attachments early in life. Although usually connected with primary caregivers like parents or guardians, I propose that the reason David was a resilent leader (at least in the first half of his life) is because he attached to God early in his life, similar to how a child attaches to one’s parent in a healthy relationships.

    As the writer of Proverbs observes, “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Prov. 27:4).

    In such situations, you have well pointed out that the cross is where jealousy is to be taken, as well as the posture of prayer to enfold it.

  3. Burton Haynes says:

    Thank you for this very nice post, I was searching this very same topic for a research paper for school and I am so glad I found this, It has helped me so much.

  4. Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

    Burton, I’m glad to know that there was something in this blog post that piqued your interest. There is much to explore regarding the intersection of leadership and spirituality ~ especially in light of our backgrounds and upbringing. Hopefully, this discussion at least begins a conversation about the interply between these dynamics. Thank you for your reply.