Posts Tagged ‘attachment’

David and Saul: How Our Backgrounds Impact Our Leadership

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 by Diane Chandler

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?