Both leadership and management are necessary in organizations (I recently shared what sets leaders and managers apart). However, leaders often find themselves drifting toward managing when they need to be leading. This happened to Moses.
When Moses was leading the children of Israel, he slipped into a management mode that debilitated his effectiveness. He did all the work, had all the meetings, and managed all the details.
Four Insights from Moses’ Management/Leadership Struggle
Moses had an enormous calling. God was using him, but Moses was sinking fast. He was in over his head, and Jethro, his father-in-law, knew it. We glean four insights from Moses management/leadership struggle.
1. Moses did everything for the people and, as a result, became the lid on his ministry
Exodus 18:14 (NLT) says, “When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?”
Without even realizing it, Moses had slipped into management mode. He was doing everything for the people. Moses became the lid – the bottleneck – in his efforts to meet the needs of the people he was called to lead. “Doing for” replaced “delegating to.” Question: Have you become the lid to your organization?
2. Moses let the present hijack the future
Moses became distracted by managing the needs of the present, and he lost sight of his responsibility to lead the people toward God’s vision for the future. When asked why he was doing what he was doing, Moses replied, “Because the people come to me to get a ruling from God. When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions” (Exodus 18:15-16).
Moses did everything but the one thing he should have done. He didn’t lead. The people determined the agenda rather than Moses. As a result, Moses couldn’t see the forest for the trees. His perspective was hijacked, along with the future. Question: Is your focus on the present hijacking your organization’s future.
3. Moses’ motive was right but his method was wrong
I believe Moses genuinely had the right motive. He wanted to serve the Israelites and meet their needs. Even Jethro made this observation. Exodus 18:17-20 says, “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives.”
Notice two things in this passage. First, Moses said, “This is not good.” In other words, Moses’ method wasn’t working. He was headed straight for burnout. But then Jethro followed it up with, “You should continue…” He helped Moses prioritize what was most important: representing the people to God, teaching God’s decrees, modeling a godly life. Moses was doing the right thing, but his most important leadership priorities were deluded by management methods. Question: Is your method for leading broken?
4. Jethro instilled in Moses a leadership mindset to replace his management methods.
Thankfully Moses didn’t leave Moses to figure out a game plan alone. He didn’t just point out his problem, he coached him toward a brighter future. Exodus 18:21-26 says, “But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.” Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and followed his suggestions. He chose capable men from all over Israel and appointed them as leaders over the people. He put them in charge of groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. These men were always available to solve the people’s common disputes. They brought the major cases to Moses, but they took care of the smaller matters themselves.
Jethro stepped in with instructions, replacing Moses’ management methods with a leadership mindset. He was to select capable men, appoint them as leaders, and then “let them decide” (v. 22). How often do we forget to let our teams decide? Delegating Decision-making authority separates leadership from management. As Captain Michael Abrashoff once said, “If all you give are orders, then all you will get are order takers.” Question: Has your leadership mindset been replaced by management methods?
Moses was lured toward management, but God sent Jethro to point him back to the role God designed him to fill. If God has called you to lead, what changes do you need to make to keep from drifting into management mode?