“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”~ British statesman and philosopher, Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Frequently, the forward-looking leader is best served by understanding and avoiding the missteps of the past. With that in mind, perhaps the greatest leader of antiquity whose life was full of successes and failures that we can learn from is the Hebrew leader Moses.
Tradition holds that Moses authored the first five books of the bible; transcribed the 10 commandments from God; delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and led the entire Hebrew nation – comprising hundreds of thousands of people – through a desert wilderness for 40 years into the land of Canaan.
It’s important to note, that despite Moses’ expert leadership and successes, there are lessons to be learned from his miscues as well. Whether or not you’re religious, here are some key insights from the story of Moses regarding five leadership mistakes he made:
Impulsive Action – Moses exhibited impulsive tendencies several times in the Bible. One of his more famous impulsive acts was captured in Exodus 32:19 where he descended from the top of Mount Sinai carrying the first set of 10 commandments that God had written in stone. Moses threw the God-etched tablets to the ground, shattering them, when he saw the Israelites worshiping a golden calf they had created in Moses’ absence. Moses’ anger temporarily destroyed the literal handiwork of God, forcing Moses to re-cut stone tablets for the Lord to re-write the commandments on.
LESSON#1: Impulsive actions often lead to needless rework.
Fear-Based Decisions – In Exodus 2:11-12, Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. The Egyptian pharaoh found out and tried to kill Moses in retaliation. Moses then fled to the nation of Midian where he stayed for the next 40 years. Without debating the morality of Moses’ murderous action, his fear-based decision to flee delayed his ability to lead his people by decades.
LESSON#2: Decisions based on fear cause significant delays in a project or mission.
Bad Personnel Choices – Even though the Bible states that Moses heard from God, it also illustrates that Moses made bad personnel decisions at times. Perhaps the worst was leaving his brother Aaron in charge of the entire people while Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the law from God. According to Exodus chapter 32, during Moses’ absence, Aaron’s custodial leadership was a disaster that resulted in the creation and worship of the golden calf. As a result, 3,000 Israelites died in the wake of God’s wrath.
LESSON#3: Leaders need to surround themselves with the best people who can seamlessly backfill.
No Boundaries – According to Exodus chapter 18, Moses heard and adjudicated the pleas and cases of any and all members of his nomadic nation. He appointed himself as the single judge and arbiter of God’s will, which ultimately wore him out. For whatever reason, and it’s not specifically detailed in the scriptures, Moses failed to relinquish this draining role until his father-in-law counseled him to do so.
LESSON#4: Leaders must learn to trust others and share responsibility.
Unwarranted Rebellion – This last mistake was the most costly to Moses and is captured in the book of Numbers 20:9-13 where the Hebrew nation complained of thirst and God told Moses to speak to a rock so that water could flow from it to satisfy their thirst. Instead, Moses chose to hit the rock with a staff in front of the people – publicly violating God’s instruction. This error in judgment kept Moses from entering the Promised Land.
LESSON#5: Leaders are accountable to somebody or a board and should follow their ethical and legal directives to the best of their ability.
Question: In your life, have you learned more for the good decisions or bad decisions?
Tor Constantino is an ex-journalist, current PR professional who has worked for CBS Radio and ABC, CBS television stations. He contributes to RELEVANT magazine, ChristianPost.com, SCL and FaithVillage.
CC Image • TheRevSteve on Flickr