Leadership Lessons From Moses

by Rabbi Edward Cohn* and Dr. Neil Baum**

The Bible is so rich in stories that took place thousands of years ago. Often times the stories serve as lessons for the present. There’s no better example of leadership than Moses who delivered the Jewish people out of bondage from Egypt to the Promised Land. This article will discuss 10 examples of leadership by Moses and how they apply to our daily lives.

1. Moses had an effective team. It included his mother, his sister, Miriam, and the Egyptian princess who raised him. In adulthood, Aaron, became an indispensable part of his team. Moses’ ego was able to accept advice from his trusted team members.

We have to be cognizant that we can’t do it all and we need to heed the advice from members of our team. An effective organization has to function like a team. We have to surround ourselves with a team that is focused on making certain that each customer\client\patient has a positive experience. The team has to be cohesive and have an effective communication system so that everyone is on the same page. Often times this can be accomplished by having regular staff meetings where problems are identified, solutions offered, and then an implementation process is created.

One of us (NHB) once saw a restroom at the end of the day that had toilet tissue on the floor and a spilled specimen cup on the sink. The staff was asked if they would be comfortable using the restroom and the answer was negative. At the next staff meeting we discussed the situation of the restroom and found a solution by assigning a different person each day to clean the restroom at noon and mid-afternoon so that the last patient enjoyed a clean facility just like the first patient in the morning. We were able to function like a team and everyone took responsibility to take care of the smallest details.

2. Moses was a good delegator. His father in law, Jethro, advised him to delegate by way of using magistrates and judges to help settle disputes. Perhaps Moses was the first well-known delegator. Moses’ ego was able to accept advice from his trusted and perceptive father in law.

It is not possible to be a good leader by micromanaging your staff. An efficient and effective leader should only do what leaders need to do and all other activities should be delegated to others.

3. Moses understood the importance of downtime. Moses quickly understood that one day a week was needed for rest and reflection on a higher order of things. Leaders need to help their staff find time for creative problem solving. This is the purpose of regular staff meetings where the entire staff pulls back and focuses on the problems at hand. This is also why a retreat away from the office where there are no distractions can be useful for long range planning.

4. Find the willing minority or the one(s) that will be the champions and implementers of your goals and objectives. Only two of Moses’ men, Caleb and Joshua, believed that the children of Israel could triumph. Moses found that the willing minorities or these two men would help achieve their goal and help move the group forward.

5. Moses listened and obeyed. G_d told Moses what to do and he willingly did it. Your staff has to have that same mentality and that is when told to do something, they must complete the task. You want to be surrounded by a staff that doesn’t “try” to accomplish a task, but will do it or at least let you know why they didn’t accomplish your request.

6. Moses attempted the impossible. It was no easy objective to take the entire Jewish nation out of Egypt especially when a cruel Pharaoh was trying to stop them. Moses dared to do the impossible.

We are often confronted with impossible tasks in our lives. Yet with perseverance and determination and agree to work for the good of the business\group instead of being self-serving, the mission or the impossible can be accomplished. After all overcoming a few obstacles is a lot easier than leading the Israelites out of the land of Egypt without food and water!

7. Forgive your staff or fire them. Moses experienced rebellion from his staff and from the Israelites. The rebels were admonished with quick dispatch. An effective leader decides whether to forgive transgressions made by employees or fire them. Remember, if you forgive the big transgression, you have set a precedent, which will continue to perpetuate itself.

8. Make sacrifices and defer gratification but not at your family’s expense. Moses sacrificed his own life’s ambitions and put his family on the back burner for the journey to the Promised Land. The landscape is cluttered with leaders with failed marriages as a result of not spending adequate quality time with their families. Sacrifice is necessary when you assume a leadership role, but find the balance between your family and your profession and you will be more successful at both.

9. Moses prepared and trained his successor. Moses’ equivalent of a chief operating officer was Joshua who was selected by Moses to be his successor. Joshua had proven leadership skills and was the obvious successor in the eyes of Israelites.

Our take away message is that a good leader prepares his staff to function when he is absent or upon retirement of the leader. No one can work or lead forever and no void should be left when a leader or office manager is gone or retires.

10. Moses gave the Israelites just a few rules and guidelines. Moses didn’t leave the Israelites with an employee manual with dozens of pages and dozens of rules that no one ever looks at after their first few days of orientation. No, he gave them just 10 Commandments. This is akin to a mission statement with just a few words to guide the business or the team.

Bottom Line: Moses did finally reach the Promised Land after wandering in the desert for 40 years. The leadership lessons of Moses worked for him over 3000 years ago and they can work for you today. Apply his lessons to your business and your life and you will succeed just like Moses.

*Rabbi Edward Cohn is the senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in New Orleans, Louisiana

** Dr. Neil Baum is a physician in New Orleans and practices at Touro Infirmary