"The king's favor is toward a servant who acts wisely, but his anger is toward him who acts shamefully"
One of the objectives of the book of Proverbs is to teach leadership. Solomon lays this out as one of the purposes of the book in the first chapter. So here he instructs how to be a leader.
This is the Hebrew word melek which means king, ruler, or leader. It was in the discussions about how a king acts that Solomon teaches how to be a leader at the highest levels. This lesson on leadership is somewhat unexpected in our culture that sees great leadership as unemotional and never forceful or angry.
This is the Hebrew word ratson which means goodwill, favor, acceptance. The idea is that the leader openly shows what pleases him. He displays that he is encouraged with the person who acts wisely and discouraged with the person who acts shamefully. Do not hide your excitement or your displeasure – it is one of the upfront lessons in this proverb.
Leadership is causing others to do your external expectations; therefore, it is crucial that when people live out your expectations, they are praised and encouraged and blessed for doing that. In much of modern leadership people are expected to know what to do; and when they do a good job or they really move a project forward in the right direction, there is a tendency to think: That is what they were supposed to do; we don't need to celebrate that. It is what we hired them to do. No, you do need to celebrate that and you do need to show people that you are pleased with their behavior when you are. The strongest long-term motivation for repeating behavior is praise, reward, and encouragement of past correct behavior.
If you want people to keep moving in the right direction, then reward them emotionally, psychologically – even physically - when they do something right. People are not robots who will keep doing the correct program just for the sheer delight of following orders.
This is the Hebrew word sakal which means to be prudent, act wisely. The idea is strategic thinking – taking a number of different options and coming up with the greatest good scenario and moving in that direction.
This is an important idea. Solomon is saying that when someone under your leadership has an assignment that is not cut and dried but requires strategy and wisdom to accomplish and they choose wisely – like Joseph – you cannot let that go. You need to reward that; you need to make sure that they realize how pleased you are by what they did. Praise them for going beyond just simple instructions. They chose wisely. Leadership above them needs to take note if they want that to continue.
but His anger is toward him who acts shamefully
The second aspect of leadership of followers is discouraging those who act poorly or destructively.
This is the Hebrew word ebrah which means overflow, arrogance, fury, rage, wrath. The stark contrast between favor and overflowing rage is immense. Solomon is saying it must be clear between you did a good thing and you did a bad thing.
Often in leadership – and even in parenting – a somewhat muted response or even mildly neutral response is embraced as acceptance.
This is the Hebrew word bosh which means to be ashamed. Our culture has tried to eliminate shame as a viable means of cultural control, but it is very effective and is needed to put moral boundaries around negative behavior. To do that which is shameful is to act in an overtly selfish and morally wrong way. It is to grasp after what you want with little or no thought to the consequences to others.
When a person under your leadership acts in this way, it must be clear that this is not acceptable. When they did not ask themselves what you would expect but only what do they want, they ceased to be following you. It is appropriate that they feel your displeasure. Do not ignore this kind of behavior or it will repeat more often.
In our day and age we do not like hard conversations, so we just don't have them. But a leader does not avoid them. A leader will have a conversation evaluating the actions of the person who was involved in shameful behavior:
What did you do? Making the person say what they actually did.
Was it the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do in that situation? It is important to have them evaluate their behavior.
What could you have done other than what you did? You must help them see options so that the next time they do not get tunnel vision on their selfish desires.
What needs to be done to you so that you never make that choice again? This is where they help you put a policy in place or a reminder in place so that others will not go down that road because they saw what happened to Joe.
To be a leader means that your expectations must be followed. To be followed long term, you must praise those who are wise and clearly demonstrate your displeasure at those who abuse their privilege with shameful or evil behavior. This is a part of being a leader.