Biblical lessons for today’s leadership

Feb 18 2013, 19:49 IST
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SummaryIt’s not fashionable to turn to religious leaders for managerial inspiration, nor will everyone agree that it is appropriate to assess a historical figure against modern standards of leadership.

What executives can learn from a holy leader

Shlomo Ben-Hur

It’s not fashionable to turn to religious leaders for managerial inspiration, nor will everyone agree that it is appropriate to assess a historical figure against modern standards of leadership. However, the story of how Moses grew to become a highly-acclaimed leader has powerful lessons for even the most secular-minded business person.

His biography sheds a light on the formative experiences of an ethical leader, while his actions demonstrate how such a leader can act under challenging circumstances. He is also an excellent example of how different and somewhat contradictory leadership styles—in his case, one of a visionary, shepherd, teacher and servant—can be combined to create a powerful leadership model that is as applicable today as it was in biblical times.

Moses’s journey to leadership was by no means straightforward. He was born into slavery, was rescued from drowning by a Pharaoh’s daughter, and was brought up in luxury as an Egyptian prince. He fled into the desert and lived as a shepherd—a role considered an abomination in Egyptian society—after killing an overseer who was whipping a slave, before eventually being chosen by God to lead a mixed group of people to the Promised Land.

Moses’s upbringing and life before he became a leader illustrate that multiple experiences across cultures, classes, and lifestyles can be a good mechanism for developing empathy, credibility and trustworthiness—especially when working with a group of people with a wide variety of backgrounds.

It’s also worth noting some of the other reasons why God chose him: as well as killing the overseer, he interceded between two fighting slaves, and helped women to water their flocks when others chased them away. These were the actions of a man who could empathise with others, and was willing to put what was right ahead of what was easy. Transfer this into today’s world, and you can see that considering candidates’ early formative experiences, not just their work history, could help organisations get a better sense of their character.

One of the most striking characteristics of Moses’s story is his complete reluctance to become a leader. He told God, among other things, that he was not a good enough speaker and that he was not fit to lead. Eventually he accepted the role, but only after being convinced that he would have support from others, including his brother, tribal elders, and God himself. It could be argued that

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