April 16, 2012

4 Ancient Leadership Lessons From Moses


Michelangelo' statue of Moses in Rome - via Creative Commons credit Atlas922000

A few months ago, I wrote a post about 5 Ancient Leadership Mistakes which explored five leadership shortfalls of the Israelite  Moses.

You may recall that Moses lived nearly 3,400 years ago and is credited with leading the Hebrew nation out of Egyptian slavery.

In that companion post,  it may have seemed on the surface to be a piece that focused on the failings and foibles of the great Hebrew leader.

Actually, it was intended as a tribute to his humanity and a critique of the pitfalls that can befall any leader. Without question, Moses was one of the greatest and most influential leaders in recorded history.

It only seems fair to showcase some of the positive things that he did as well.

This current post seeks to build on those learnings gleaned from some of Moses’ miscues and strives to reveal some of the more effective qualities he exhibited as a leader, resulting in the successful completion of his lifelong objective to deliver the entire Hebrew nation from slavery. Here are four successful leadership traits of Moses:


1. Seasoned Veteran – Moses was about 80 years old when he led the Hebrew nation out of Egypt. He was extremely smart from the education and training he received while raised in Pharaoh’s palace. Additionally, he had refined survival skills from his subsequent 40 years in the wilderness of Midian.

Moses’ education and life experiences had equipped him to handle virtually any situation. And when an unfamiliar scenario arose, he sought divine direction which always led to optimal outcomes for the entire nation when those directives were followed. Simply state, there’s no substitute for experience regardless of the nature of the endeavor.

Teams Make Better Decisions Than Individuals

2. Listened to Advice – According to Exodus chapter 18, Moses heard and adjudicated the pleas and cases of any and all members of the traveling city. 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 refused to relinquish this particular role even though it was very draining until his father-in-law gave him some good advice about delegation.

Ultimately, Moses yielded to the counsel of Jethro and shared the responsibility and burden. The lesson here is that teams make better decisions than individuals and effective leaders must rely on the input from others.

Leaders Take Action

3. Took Decisive Action – One of the biggest challenges for a leader is seeking out necessary information before making a decision to act. Unfortunately, this process can get protracted and often results in “analysis paralysis” and inaction. The bible clearing portrays Moses as a man of decisive action and deeds who was used by God.

Examples of divinely-inspired actions that manifested through Moses include: the 10 plagues of Egypt; the parting of the Red Sea; destruction of the Egyptian army; praying and receiving manna from heaven every day for 40 years; having water flow from a rock; praying and receiving enough quail to feed the people – these are all examples of decisive action taken by a committed leader.

Even believing in God to intercede for the Israelites was a conscious act by Moses that he routinely exhibited. The bottom line is that successful leaders are fully engaged in every endeavor and ready to act when needed.

Leaders Know Their People

4. Understood Human Nature – the biblical tradition holds that Moses wrote the first five books of the bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), yet he understood that after he died it would only be a matter of time before the Hebrew nation drifted from God.

Moses stated in Deuteronomy 31:27 “..If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!”

His writings helped codify conduct, teachings, traditions and rudimentary laws for centuries and became the basis for the current legal system of the western world. The best leaders recognize and leverage the strengths of their people while helping to shore up the gaps and weaknesses. Moses was no different.

His commitment and dedication to capture a rule of law in writing, served the nation of Israel as an ethical touchstone for centuries.

Question: What other qualities do effective leaders share?

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