Society & Politics

Faith & Politics in the Life of Moses - Lesson 5: The Challenges of Leadership


Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

In the previous article we looked at the role of the leader. In this article we will focus on the challenges a leader invariably faces in the course of living out that role. From examining some of the specific challenges Moses faced as a political leader, we will see that many of these are similar to those faced by people in positions of leadership today. They include the burden of overwork and the need to delegate; the constant encroachment of work and leadership obligations on personal and family life; and coping with a steady stream of complaints, opposition, and threats to the leader’s position.

As we face these challenges we must remember that Moses was not just a political leader. He was first and foremost a spiritual leader—a man of faith to whom God had graciously revealed himself and his work. So what difference did this make in how he handled the challenges of leadership? And what lessons are there for us, as we take the necessary step of relating our faith to our calling, work, and leadership obligations?

The Wisdom and Risks of Delegation

The first challenge that Moses faced—like many leaders past and present—was overwork. There is always more to do than there are hours in the day. So Moses learns the wisdom of delegation. Shortly after leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was visited by his father-in-law Jethro. Having observed that Moses was overworked, Jethro urged him to delegate some of his responsibilities to “officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.” Moses followed this wise advice (Exodus 18) with the apparent approval of God (Exodus 18:23) and the people (Deuteronomy 1:9-18).

Throughout his time as a leader, Moses was directed by God to further distribute the responsibilities of spiritual and temporal leadership. Notably, he established the Aaronic priesthood and the Levitical order to care for the tabernacle—an important aspect of spiritual leadership for the Israelites. He also anointed seventy elders of Israel with God’s Spirit “to carry the burden of the people so he would not have to carry it alone” (Numbers 11: 10-17). One further example of Moses’s delegation is how—in response to the Lord’s direction and his own inclination—Moses gave the job of scouting out the Promised Land to a task force of twelve men—one being chosen from each tribe (Numbers 13:1).

Many leaders, however, are reluctant to delegate and unwilling to relinquish their power despite this being a means by which they can better serve the community they are leading. This reluctance might be due to egocentricity, personal insecurities, or a lack of faith in the abilities and motives of others—three often inter-related character flaws. While Moses had his own set of insecurities, they do not seem to have found expression in a reluctance to delegate.

Sadly, though, Moses’s delegation did not always lead to positive outcomes for himself or the people. The most obvious disappointment was the betrayal of purpose by the task-force Moses appointed to scout the Promised Land. This was a betrayal which led to the drastic result of Israel’s having to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Similarly, the community leaders to whom Moses had delegated responsibility were also those who—at the instigation of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram—later led the rebellion against his leadership and God’s direction (Numbers 16). While it is often wise to delegate, there are obvious risks in doing so and the outcomes of that delegated leadership cannot be guaranteed.

My own experience with delegation has included a reluctance to delegate, because as a perfectionist “I’d rather do it myself and get it right” than delegate the wrong task to the wrong party and then be forced to devote endless amounts of time trying to correct the mis-delegation. My observation is that when we view our co-workers as simply “functional beings” we tend to attach too much weight to whether they possess the functional capacity and experience required to accomplish the task, and we pay insufficient attention to whether or not they have a heart prepared for and attuned to the job.

When we view our co-workers and colleagues from a more spiritual perspective—as “human beings” and therefore suffering from the consequences of the fall but also bearing in some way the image of God—we should be less inclined to lean solely on our own human wisdom in making delegation decisions, and be more apt to seek guidance from him who sees the hearts of all people.

Knowing when and what to delegate, and to whom, is an integral part of leadership to which are attached both benefits and risks. It is sobering to remember that even Moses, the man of God, was not immune to ill-advisedly placing trust in those to whom he delegated authority and responsibilities, and that we ourselves are not immune to misplacing our own trust when we delegate. All the more reason to seek spiritual insight and guidance in delegating responsibilities to others.

Protecting Family Life

Undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges any leader faces is adequately safeguarding personal and family relations against the relentless encroachment of leadership obligations. So let us consider this challenge in the case of Moses.

Having grown up in the courts of Egypt as a prince, Moses fled to Midian after killing an Egyptian. In Midian, Moses married Zipporah, a shepherdess daughter of a Midianite priest (Jethro). Zipporah bore Moses two sons, Gershom (Exodus 2: 16-21) and Eliezer (Exodus 18:3-6). Together, Moses and Zipporah, along with their two sons, journeyed back to Egypt. One can only try to imagine the culture shock of a shepherdess from Midian going to Egypt on a mission to confront Pharaoh!

Apparently, at some point during the conflict with Pharaoh, Moses sent his wife and sons away—back to his father-in-law Jethro. When Jethro came to see Moses after the liberation of Israel from Egypt he brought Zipporah and their sons with him. What the Scripture records is Moses’s enthusiastic reception of Jethro, but it says nothing at all about his reunion with Zipporah (Exodus 18:1-8).

Later in the story, Moses married a Cushite woman—much to the displeasure of Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12:1)—and nothing more is said regarding Zipporah, Gershom, or Eliezer. Furthermore, although several of Aaron’s sons were appointed to succeed him in the priesthood, Moses’s sons are never mentioned as possible successors to his leadership.

Like many political and religious leaders, Moses’ commitment to his leadership responsibilities appeared to damage his family relationships. The same tragedy occurred with Samuel and again with David, and “tragedy” is definitely the right word to describe this all-too-frequent phenomenon. In Canada, the incidence of family break up is higher among members of the House of Commons than it is among the general population.

My own experience in this area involves “trying to do both”—trying to satisfy the obligations to leadership and family equally and simultaneously. But this is an ill-advised course because in practice the immediate and incessant demands of leadership will inexorably take precedent over family obligations, leaving one’s spouse with an unequal share of family responsibilities and inevitably depriving someone—a spouse, a child, a grandchild—of needed attention, affection, and guidance.

The God we serve is first and foremost a God who treasures relationships—our relationship with him and with each other. When we sacrifice these relationships, especially the relationship with family, to other pursuits—the pursuit of wealth, power, self-satisfaction and even such causes as public service or “doing God’s work”—we are courting personal tragedy. God may call us to “self-sacrificial” service. But if that service involves involuntarily sacrificing the interests and well-being of others, especially members of our family, we need to earnestly seek his help in resolving the apparent contradiction.

It is important to ask, therefore, what safeguards are in place to insure that your leadership commitments—whatever spheres they may be in—do not adversely affect, or even destroy, your marriage or relations with your children. This is one area where, sadly, the example of Moses is not to be emulated.

Coping with Criticism, Opposition, and Threats

The greatest, most persistent, and most debilitating challenge of leadership that Moses experienced was coping with grumbling, complaining, criticism, opposition, and threats to his leadership from those he was attempting to lead. The Israelites grumbled about water at Marah (Exodus 15: 22-25), and again at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1-7). And they complained about their lack of food in the Desert of Sin (Exodus 16), and again about their hardships at Taberah (Numbers 11).

On several occasions the criticism and complaining about Moses’ leadership turned into outright rebellion—for example, when the Israelites received the negative report from the spies sent to scout out the promised land (Numbers 14:1-4.10) and when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram challenged Moses' spiritual authority (Numbers 16). On the first of these occasions the people were even prepared to stone Moses and Aaron and replace them with leaders who would return them to Egypt—direct rebellion, not only against Moses and Aaron, but also against the will and purpose of God himself.

In the case of threats to his own leadership Moses did not defend himself but simply trusted in God to do so—leading to the description of Moses (a very unusual description of a revolutionary leader) as “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). And in each of the recorded cases of Israel grumbling and complaining to Moses about their lack of water or food, Moses took the criticism before the Lord and sought direction from him. In each of these cases, Moses followed God’s direction and the people’s needs were miraculously met.

One tragic incident at Kadesh, however, reveals a different response. Again the children of Israel were bitterly complaining to Moses and Aaron about the lack of water. Taking the people’s petition before God, Moses was instructed to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.” Moses returned to the people, still bitter at their complaints, and said, “Listen, you rebels, must we [Moses and Aaron] bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses, after seemingly attributing the forthcoming miracle to himself and Aaron rather than to God, struck the rock to bring forth water, instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. In failing to obey God’s clear instructions, Moses and Aaron were severely censured:

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12)

In sum, what can we learn from Moses’s experience in dealing with the constant and intense criticism he received from the people he was called to lead, including direct threats to his leadership? Two things.

First, it is significant and admirable that Moses let God deal with direct threats to his leadership rather than trying to defend himself. This required not only admirable restraint but also a deep faith and confidence that ultimately he owed his leadership position to divine providence and that ultimately it was in God’s hands, not his or the people’s, to sustain or revoke it. Might those of us in our leadership positions come to know such a deep faith and confidence in the sovereignty of God.

Second, without trying to dodge the question, perhaps another lesson from Moses’ experience with criticism and internal opposition is not so much for the leader as it is for the followers. I can say from my own experience that constant criticism of a leader from within is more debilitating than all the attacks and criticisms from without. In Moses’ case that criticism wore away at him and eventually resulted in his exasperated response at Kadesh. Consequently, it deeply and adversely affected his personal relationship with God and led directly to what he regarded as his greatest failure—his inability to take the people of God into the Promised Land.

Leaders—in particular political and spiritual leaders—are not beyond criticism, nor should they be. But when our grumbling, complaining, and criticism undermines not only their relationship with us but also their relationship with the ultimate source of their guidance and inspiration, then we have gone too far. We need lessons in leadership and there are plenty of those in the life of Moses. But there is also such a thing as godly and ungodly followership – and there are hard lessons to be learned on this front as well from the relationship between Moses and those he was called upon by God to lead.

Biography of Preston Manning

Preston Manning works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy, including new approaches to the intersection of faith with democratic governance, the market economy, pluralism and multiculturalism, science and technology, and environmental stewardship.

Preston served as a member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, part of which he served as his party’s critic for Science, Technology and Innovation. He founded two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance—and was the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000. Preston also has 20 years of experience as an owner and manager of a consulting firm specializing mainly in strategic planning and communications advice to the energy sector. In 2005, he founded the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, which supports research, educational, and communications initiatives designed to achieve a more democratic society in Canada guided by conservative principles.

Source: Marketplace Institute

comments powered by Disqus