In the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. And I keep coming back to one example that I think fits into our current situation pretty well – Moses.
Throughout the whole storyline that runs from the exodus from Egypt until the Israelites enter the promised land in Deuteronomy, we hear a consistent story – that the Israelites are a stubborn people. Moses complains about their stubbornness to the Lord. God complains to Moses about their stubbornness. That part always gives me a chuckle.
But I’ve never really taken in what that really means until now. I used to see that portion of Scripture through a lens that showed the people of Israel in a negative light – they were unappreciative, forgetful, etc. There’s certainly an element of that, but I think it’s much deeper than those surface level things. The people of Israel were lost. And when people are lost without a sense of where they are going or how they will get there, they turn to the things they are familiar with, even when those things weren’t in their best interest. I think it’s human nature to do this.
And throughout this story line we see how Moses (and God) handles this. Other leaders are added to help take the burden off of Moses shoulder, along with the stress. The people have basic needs provided for. There is organization that is developed. There are times of movement and times of staying put. There is a spokesperson who is tapped into.
Moses has to deal with an extended crisis of 40 years. And here’s what we need to keep in mind – he gets the people through it (of course, it’s really God who does, but Moses is the instrument to do that). They arrive at their destination – the promised land. The promise is fulfilled.
Here’s what I take away from Moses and what I see as applicable today – how we define leadership matters.
If you were to ask me what leadership is, here’s what I would say today – Leadership is making decisions that you know are going to upset people because those decisions look past individual “stubbornness,” desires, wishes, and expectations to look for the greater good. Leadership is about presenting a vision of a possible (better) future, regardless of what people think about how it impacts them directly. Leadership is about seeing how the people the leader serves will benefit down the road knowing that the leader will not receive any praise for the decisions made. Leadership is not about seeking praise and being liked. Leadership is about doing what needs to be done.
I see all of these things in Moses and how he leads the Israelites. I see the same traits as vitally important in our own crisis.
How do you define leadership?