Leading like Mordecai:

Four leadership values from the book of Esther

LaKeisha Williams, PhD, is an educator and pastor’s spouse, residing in Huntsville, Alabama, United States.

I will never forget the year in upper elementary school that we students were able to use highlighter pens. That particular summer, I greatly anticipated shopping for school supplies with my parents. As I paced the aisles, carefully selecting the most appropriate items for a successful school year, my heart leaped when I reached the highlighter section. Without hesitation, I snatched up a four-pack of pens with different neon colors—yellow, green, orange, and pink—to add to my collection.

You can imagine my excitement on the first day of school when our teacher told us to take out our math notebooks. He neatly wrote several headings on the board, including the word “OBJECTIVE” at the top right corner under the date. After we completed our daily practice of notetaking, he told us that we could use a highlighter pen to emphasize the objective for the day. That was arguably my favorite part of the class as I decided which color to select. I remember trying each color during the first few weeks of school, but eventually, one color stood out as best. The neon yellow was like surrounding the words with flashing lights that bellowed, “Over here! Over here!” Such is the case with Esther 10.

The highlight moment

The concluding statements in the chapter mark yellow highlighter all over the main idea of the story. It is easy to get stuck on King Ahasuerus’s dealings with Vashti that led to Esther’s appointment or Haman’s sick efforts to take down his enemy only to have his plans to flip back onto himself. Perhaps, you stopped at the timeless “for such a time as this” monologue Mordecai gave to Esther as she vacillated in indecision on how to use her sudden, unexpected authority to help her people. But, in case you missed it, Esther 10 provides us with all we need to know.

“For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed” (Esther 10:3, KJV; emphasis added).

Suddenly, in the last verse of the story, Mordecai, an apparently minor character in the book, emerges as the hero.

Through its short description of Mordecai’s leadership style, the passage provides four leadership values for the contemporary leader. They represent a moral imperative for God’s leader. First, true greatness comes only from the one True and Living God. Second, favor is a sign of great leadership. Third, great leaders seek good for those they serve. Finally, great leaders pursue peace.

Leadership value 1: Greatness comes from God

The book of Esther presents a variety of leadership styles. On one end of the spectrum, we have a leader who has obtained everything by himself—or so he thinks. Ahasuerus has fought hard to attain a prominent place. Unfortunately, his self-confidence is weak, and he constantly looks over his shoulder to see whether someone is trying to trick him. As a result, he is quick to eliminate anyone who challenges his authority, and his followers (for example, Haman) behave similarly.

However, Esther 10 describes Mordecai as a recipient of greatness given by the king. Throughout the book, we find a man humbly serving at the palace gates (Esther 2:19). The phrase “sitting at the gates” indicates that he had a significant position in the royal administration. The name Mordecai, in fact, means “little man.” Although he never asks God for greatness, Mordecai exhibits diligence, boldness, and purpose, whatever his role (Esther 2:11; 3:2; 4:14). In this humble attitude, greatness finds him (Esther 9:4).

When given by God, greatness in leadership comes with an assurance that position is not about self but about the One who uniquely placed the individual to serve in that capacity.

The final chapter of Esther suggests that alternate options exist for great leadership. When given by God, greatness in leadership comes with an assurance that position is not about self but about the One who uniquely placed the individual to serve in that capacity. It allows the leader to rely on God’s power to exalt in His own time. The journey of such leaders honored by God will build character that will enable them to withstand difficulty.

At a time when aspiring leaders compete for power at the expense of moral behavior, it is a relief to know that only God gives lasting greatness in leadership. It is also no surprise that God provides greatness to the Mordecais of the world (James 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:6).

Leadership value 2: Great leaders are favored by others

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7, NIV). The principle of sowing and reaping is a familiar concept for those caught up in the throes of leadership. Many leadership theories—for example, those of transactional, transformational, and servant leadership—suggest that give-and-take is a necessity in a quality leadership-member exchange. If you, as a leader, wish to know how you are faring, look at your followers. What is the fruit of your service?

For Ahasuerus, his followers were sneaky and selfish. His leadership fostered an environment in which everyone scrambled over each other in their drive to be the greatest. They constantly glanced over their shoulders to make sure that no one scammed them.

In contrast, Mordecai’s leadership did not have to demand respect. Rather, he gained it by giving it first. Mordecai did not operate above those around him. He was no respecter of persons (Esther 3:5; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11). Mordecai was very involved with and cared deeply for his people (Esther 8:15–17; 4:1). Not haughty or puffed up, he took his current position as a serious responsibility from God and encouraged others to do the same (Esther 4:14). People recognized and discussed it. As a result of how he conducted himself and God’s public exaltation of his status, Mordecai became famous (Esther 9:4).

So it is with contemporary leadership. God’s call to leadership requires faithfulness and genuine care and concern in even the little things. In due time, the Lord will not only exalt such a leader but also cause that leader to be deeply and personally accepted by others. When leadership operates in humility and greatness, it receives sincere favor.

Leadership value 3: Great leaders seek good for those they serve

We cannot overstate the importance of leaders pursuing good for their followers. However, such a concept is difficult to grasp when sometimes what is good does not feel good. One of the most striking incidents in the book of Esther is the conversation that Mordecai has with her concerning her duty to speak with the king about the impact of the recent ruling on her people.

Mordecai sought good to the extent that he assured Esther that if she did not act quickly, she and her family would be lost, and God would bring deliverance for the Jews through someone else. Such a pronouncement was a direct blow to himself. Esther was the closest of kin—if she perished, so would he!

A leader’s responsibility is to do what is best by maximizing benefit to all whom he or she has contact with, to care for others even at the price of self-sacrifice. Even amid moral conundrums, successful contemporary leaders consider the overall benefit and impact to their communities when making decisions. Their perspective focuses on lasting benefits for all. The reality that great leadership seeks good for others does not ignore the imperfect context in which most leaders operate. Seeking good requires godly wisdom to know what is best in a particular situation.

God’s example of leadership also shows us that He desires pure good that is deeply internalized and manifests itself in joy and excitement. When following this example, contemporary leaders recognize the roles of goodwill and pleasure for their followers. While life sometimes includes negative consequences, that is never God’s original intent (Genesis 50:20). Unfortunately, the world is not perfect, but that fact should not prevent a leader from making a concerted and intentional effort to lift the heavy-laden heart as much as possible. God wants His creation to experience the good things of life. Mordecai sought the same for his followers and thus provides a third leadership value for today’s leaders.

Leadership value 4: Great leaders pursue peace

By its very nature, leadership involves encountering turbulent turbulent times. The most effective change and lasting growth will involve tension and conflict. However, the delicate balance that a leader seeks has peace as its goal even though the experience of leadership is never always peaceful. But in the end, peace becomes a welcome retreat. Wise leaders know that peace for their followers will increase loyalty and effectiveness.

Mordecai’s leadership style contrasts directly with those of others in the story, namely Ahasuerus; Haman; and, yes, even Esther herself. In the case of Ahasuerus, we find a leader quick to anger. People continually seek to appease him. Haman is an example of a self-centered leader who wants power and greatness so badly that he is willing to destroy an entire nation. Even Esther provides an example of a leader who is hesitant to fully grasp the power and purpose of her position. In each of these instances, the leader either forfeits or nearly misses an opportunity to bring peace to his or her nation.

Mordecai’s leadership example represents a personal concern for peace in the lives of his followers. Contemporary leaders seek not only good for their followers but also peace. But that requires continual study into the affairs of the people they serve. It demands regular positive and authentic communication. Such positive interaction creates an environment that enables their followers to work efficiently.

A source for leadership guidance

My yellow pen dried out within a month or two. But the highlighted daily math objectives continued to shine brightly through to the end of the year. Every once in a while, my teacher gave us a test over a chapter or unit. He always encouraged us to review our highlighted sections to make sure we had the main points seared into our memories. I remember turning the pages of my notes one at a time and reading each brightly colored phrase aloud. Sure enough, as long as I studied, I successfully passed each quiz or test. Looking back, I see that my teacher understood what he was doing all along. He knew what was on the test and what I needed to know to pass.

I believe that our Great Teacher has the same in mind for His students. He has highlighted passages all throughout Scripture. Esther 10 is just one of many passages for today’s leaders highlighted by God to encourage us to reflect on the leadership values of an unexpected hero, Mordecai. Mordecai’s story demonstrates that God-ordained leadership receives greatness. It reveals the reciprocal value of gracefulness and favor when interacting with others. Last it emphasizes the importance of seeking the goodwill and peaceful welfare of others.

Leaders who struggle to have an assurance of their impact need to take the time to consider Mordecai’s story recorded in the book of Esther. Pause and step away from the questionable leadership examples found in the world around us and turn your attention to a lasting guide in God’s Word. God has a yellow highlighter pen moving throughout the inspired pages. As you discover those valuable treasures, you will prepare yourself to be successful for such a time as this.

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LaKeisha Williams, PhD, is an educator and pastor’s spouse, residing in Huntsville, Alabama, United States.

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