There’s nothing like a fresh set of eyes to bring new perspective to a situation. It’s always an asset when someone that isn’t emotionally involved, doesn’t have a dog in the fight, doesn’t know “how things have always been done” or doesn’t feel obligated to any one party gives their opinion and advice on a situation. This is especially true if the one giving the fresh insight has years of experience, wisdom, and maturity under their belt which they can use to say, “I think things would work better if you made a few adjustments.”
A wise leader will make the most of this individual and their advice and glean all they can from their knowledge. That’s exactly what we see Moses doing when his father-in-law, Jethro, came for a visit in Exodus 18. The lessons that Jethro taught Moses revolutionized the way Moses led the people. These universal leadership lessons can radically change the way you do leadership as well.
Let’s open our Bibles to Exodus 18 and see what wisdom we can gather:
“Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt….Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God.
Jethro had sent word to him, 'I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.'
So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them….
…. The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, 'What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?'
Moses answered him, 'Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.'
Moses’ father-in-law replied, 'What you are doing is not good.' (Exodus 18:1-17)
Okay, so we’ve got the picture. Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, arrives in town with Moses’ wife and sons. They spend some time catching up and Moses tells Jethro about everything that’s happened since he left Midian. Remember, there’s no CNN, so Jethro’s hearing this for the first time. It’s a pretty amazing story---so amazing that Jethro basically converts and says that he now knows that Israel’s God is the only true God, and then he makes burnt offerings and sacrifices to God. So far, the visit is going pretty well.
The next day, Moses gets up to go about his normal routine and he invites Jethro to tag along. After watching Moses serve as the people’s judge from sun up until sun down, Jethro thinks to himself, “This is nuts! What is Moses doing?”
So he asks Moses what’s going on and Moses says, “The people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
That’s when Jethro decides to throw his two cents into the mix and says, “Moses, this is not good.”
Now let me ask you a question: “How would you have responded if you were Moses?”
Here you are leading over a million people. For months now, you’ve been having one-on-one conversations with God in which He talks directly to you and tells you what to say to other people on His behalf. Under God’s direction, you’ve just led a slave revolt against one of the greatest world powers that ever existed. On a regular basis, God performs miracles through you, including making water come from a rock, holding back the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross on dry land, and seeing the defeat of the Amalekite army based on whether or not your hands were raised. On top of all that, you’ve got tens of thousands of people hanging on your every word and bringing all of their disputes to you to hear your wisdom and perspective.
Now, this man, this newly converted heathen, has the audacity to tell YOU that what you’re doing isn’t good? How would you take that? Would you be tempted to say, “Uh, listen Jethro, I hear from God on a daily basis, and if He had a problem with it, He would have told me, so thanks for the advice, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Or would you respond with humility like Moses did? We’ll go back to what Jethro said in a minute, but I think before we go any further it’s important to jump down to Exodus 18:24 and notice Moses’ response, “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said”.
Moses’ humble response sets an example that every person in leadership should follow. To be a good leader you need to be humble and teachable. You need to be willing to take advice from those who have gone before you and are willing to give you the benefit of their experience. Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you contain all knowledge. A good leader is open to suggestions, advice, and constructive criticism because a good leader is always looking for ways to lead better.
People who think they know everything rarely get far in life; those who take advice are usually more successful because they are building on the foundations of others rather than trying to do everything themselves. Proverbs 19:20 “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.”
So, now that we know that a good leader humbly listens to the advice of others, let’s see what advice Jethro has for Moses and all leaders throughout history.
“Moses’ father-in-law replied, ‘What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.
You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to Him. Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.’ (Exodus 18:17-23)
What was Jethro’s advice for Moses?
Moses needed to learn to delegate.
He had to stop trying to do everything for everyone all of the time. It was too much and eventually, it was wearing him out. Even more importantly, judging all of the people’s petty cases was keeping Moses from his true calling of spending time with God, receiving God’s Law, and getting God’s vision so that he could lead the whole nation.
Look at verses 19-20 where Jethro reminds Moses of his true calling, “You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to Him. Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.”
This was the job description that God designed Moses to fulfill. Just like he did in Egypt, he was to be the middle man between God and the people. Even more importantly, Moses’ job was to receive God’s Laws from God Himself, and then teach a nation of rabble slaves how to live in God’s kingdom according to God’s Laws. That was a tremendous job!
Think about it---until this point the Israelites knew very little about God and His ways. They were born, raised, and lived as slaves in Egypt. They knew Egypt’s ways, but they didn’t know God’s ways. They knew how to be slaves, but they had no idea how to live as free men and women before God. It was Moses’ responsibility to teach them these things---only until this point, it wasn’t happening because Moses was consumed with the everyday demands of crowd control and settling disputes.
As an outsider, Jethro was able to look at the situation and say, “Moses, you’re missing your calling. You’ve got no time to really lead the people, because you’re too busy coddling the people. This isn’t good. Things have got to change. You’ve got to overcome the temptation to be everyone’s “go-to guy”---the man with all the answers---and learn to delegate, organize, and trust other people to help you lead the people. Then you can get to your real calling---leading the people and teaching them God’s ways.”
The interesting thing to me is that at this point neither Moses nor Jethro knew that Moses’ true responsibilities were about to increase tremendously. God was about to call away from the Israelite nation for a time to Mt. Sinai to receive the Law. The Tabernacle construction was about to begin and the Jewish system of worship was about to be initiated. God had big plans to start turning the Israelites slaves into His people with Moses as their leader. Yet, before any of this could take place, Moses had to learn to delegate the day-to-day responsibilities of settling the people’s disputes to others.
This is the second leadership lesson that we can learn from Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro: A good leader can’t get caught up in the temptation to do everything for everyone by doing it all yourself. It might seem exciting and even feed your ego to have so many people needing you and hanging on your every word, but it won’t be long until it catches up with you and overwhelms you. Eventually, you won’t be doing anything well because you’ll be too busy trying to do everything. It isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for the people you’re trying to serve.
A much better way to lead people is to follow the advice that Jethro gave to Moses and make it your first priority to find out find out what God is calling you to do. As the leader, what role does He want you to fill?
I can’t answer that question for you, but I can tell you that it’s important that you answer that question. Once you know what God is calling you to do, then you need to focus on following your calling and begin delegating responsibilities to others so that they can fulfill their calling and the kingdom of God can function properly.
You see, that’s the really amazing thing about God’s kingdom---He has a plan and a purpose for everyone. If you’re trying to do everything, you’re messing up that plan, first, by neglecting your own responsibilities and secondly, by robbing someone else of the opportunity and joy they will find in fulfilling their responsibilities. By trying to do it all yourself and being the “king of the hill”, you’re hindering God’s plan rather than helping it.
Mother Theresa said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
That pretty much sums up the leadership lesson that all of us who find ourselves in a position of leadership need to learn from Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro. We can’t do everything. It’s not good. Instead, we need to learn humility and learn to trust others and work with others.
Like Moses, we need to humbly trust others to teach us and give us advice from their experience. As Jethro advised Moses, we need to humbly trust others to carry their God-given responsibilities as we fulfill the responsibilities God has given us. We need to resist the prideful part of us that wants to say, “No one else can do it as well as I can” and learn to delegate responsibilities to others so that they can learn and grow and become all that God wants them to be. When we’re able to do this and work together, great things can be accomplished.