Business Lessons from the Story of David and Goliath

By Barry Pruitt


dateFri, Dec 22, 2017 @ 11:00 AM

“Goliath had as much chance against David as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had Business Lessons from David & Goliathagainst an opponent armed with a .45 automatic pistol.” - historian Robert Dohrenwend

Over three thousand years ago, a shepherd boy, smallest and last in his family, ran onto a field of battle to face a giant of a warrior. He carried with him five smooth pebbles and a sling. This boy and his story have much to teach us as men and women business leaders.

His name was David, and as the youngest of eight sons, he was often left out of the fun and exciting activities of his older brothers. At the height of the story, while the three eldest brothers prepared for war, David was sent to Bethlehem to tend sheep. With no cell phone, bicycle or basketball for entertainment, things could get boring. One of the most useful things you could learn as a young shepherd was to learn how to use a sling to fire off stones at specified targets.

To help you understand contextually what this meant, a skilled slinger in the ancient world was as deadly as today’s expert sniper. There are medieval paintings that show slingers bringing down birds in mid-flight and stories of slingers able to hit a coin from as far away as they could see it.

The Roman Empire and their legendary warriors invented a special set of tongs to extract pebbles embedded by sling in their enemies. David practiced slinging pebbles over and over, tried hitting many different targets from different angles, practiced while moving and while standing still, had killed wild animals with a sling and - he got really good at it.  Business Lesson: get really good at something through a regular discipline of practice and accountability.

Back at the battlefront, for forty consecutive days, David’s older brothers would rise, put on their armor and head out to the battlefield. Every morning, for forty consecutive days, a giant Philistine named Goliath, estimated at 6’6” (up to 9’6”) in height, chided and challenged the Israelites to “representative warfare.” This was an acceptable way of settling differences or conducting battle in ancient days while avoiding the heavy bloodshed that comes from open battle between armies.

Imagine the fear. Each warrior, none whose head was higher than the shoulder of this giant, facing this enemy who was wearing bronze shin guards to protect his legs, bronze plates to protect his feet, and a dense metal helmet and who was skilled in the three weapons he carried. Each weapon was perfect for close combat; bronze javelin, sword, and short-range spear. The fear was paralyzing. Business Lesson: When you’re fearful, you’re paralyzed with inaction. Give yourself a deadline, gather all the data you can, and make a decision.

On this particular morning, David left the flock (as directed by his father) to bring loaves of bread to his older brothers and cheese to their commanders. He arrived as the armies were going out to their lines of battle. David quickly left the food with the keeper of supplies and ran out to the front line to speak to his brothers. It was at this moment that David heard the giant’s defiance.

Goliath challenged, “Choose you a man and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.”

David immediately stepped up and said that he would go fight this giant. The response: “You are not able to fight this man, you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man since his youth.”

In response, David recited his resume list of sling accomplishments and why he would be successful in this battle. Business Lesson: Challenge your team so natural leaders emerge.  

In preparation, army leadership dressed David in a fine tunic, a coat of armor, and a bronze helmet. After walking in this battle gear for a moment, David determined not to wear it, as he was not used to it. Business Lesson: You don’t need all your armor for every battle.

David took off the armor and instead reached down to pick up five smooth stones and drop them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag. With his sling in hand, he approached the giant. As he got closer, the giant recognized that he was only a boy. A boy sent to fight him, a mighty warrior, and he was insulted. Business Lesson: Take all competition seriously, whether or not they appear capable.   

Goliath expected to be met by an equal. Someone as large, well trained, and well armed as him. Someone who, when defeated, would have been a worthy opponent. David, on the other hand, had no interest in honoring the rituals of single combat. He intended to fight as light infantry, and as he got closer to Goliath, he broke into a run while reaching into his shepherd’s bag for a stone. He slung it, and the stone sunk deep in Goliath’s forehead. Wait for it … thud. Goliath fell facedown to the ground. Business Lesson: Power and strength are not what they seem.

Well-planned winning moves are power in your company and give you strength to compete. To lead a successful team or company, you need an edge. You’ll need one thing that you do differently or better than your competitors. If your team is unfocused and does not know what your edge is, then you don’t have a winning move. You don’t have an edge. David had an edge in mobility, speed, and the ability to make a precision strike from a distance. It negated all of his enemy’s power. We call them Winning Moves and suggest that you never send your entire army into battle until you’ve had time to prove some single combat wins. That way you can save your best resources and energy for the battles that will help double your business (or more) while rendering your competition dead in the marketplace. Now go be a business David.

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Barry Pruitt


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images