I’m grateful to Kevin Anselmo, whom I met several years ago when we were both working in Switzerland, for writing a review of the book. Kevin lives in Florida and works as a communications consultant. You can find out more about his work and see some of his own writing on his website.
For all the leadership content available, I don’t think we spend enough time thinking through the leadership lessons of those from history. Perhaps it is our sense that the leadership challenges from those in the past can’t compare to our current times living in our technological age. Such thinking is short-sighted. The environments in which we live differ across time periods, but certain human needs remain constant and require effective leadership. There are important lessons to be gleaned from those in the past that we can consider today.
Case in point is Moses, considered to be one of the most important prophets in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Dr. Alan Wilson, my former pastor from when I lived in Lausanne, Switzerland, is coming out with a great book later this month entitled The Crucible of Leadership – Learning from the Story of Moses. I was able to read an advance copy and very much enjoyed it. Here are a few important practical takeaways. (Note that I believe we are all leaders, whether we manage a team of hundreds or, as is my case, run an independent consulting company with no employees).
Grapple with the wildernesses of life.
Scholars Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas have noted that we all go through intense and transformational experiences that they termed crucibles. Among the different types of crucibles are periods of isolation. Moses experienced this during his 40 years living in obscurity in the wilderness of Midian. This occurred during what one could consider the prime of his life.
At the conclusion of chapter 2, Alan asks: “Have you ever experienced a sense of being in a wilderness: for example, when there has been a gap between what you had planned or hoped for and where you actually found yourself?”
For me, the answer is yes. I know that I haven’t always responded as I should. Alan’s analysis helped me draw out implications. I particularly appreciated that the period of wilderness can often feel like God is absent, but yet can also be encountered. Wilderness times of life are also unique opportunities for personal growth and to benefit from unexpected circumstances.
Heed wise advice.
As a consultant, part of my work involves providing advice around an individual, team or organization’s communications strategy. I also have frequently called upon others to provide me with advice about different personal and business topics. When it is the right fit, such opportunities for feedback and external perspective can have quite an impact. Sometimes paying an expert makes the most sense. Other times, we can have those “ah-ha” moments through chance interactions with a family member or friend.
Alan brilliantly details the application of how Moses leveraged advice from someone outside his community. In his case, it was the input from his father-in-law, Jethro. As judge, Moses was hearing the disputes from the people. Jethro noticed that Moses was handling too many of these disputes and advised Moses to delegate. This was in the best interests for Moses and the people he was leading. Moses acted on this counsel.
Alan writes in Chapter 4: “The picture that Jethro observed is what it looks like when a leader becomes a bottleneck. When it happens, no one benefits. In Jethro’s terms, both the leader and people will wear themselves out (Exodus 18:18). The leader is overburdened and in danger of burnout, while the people who are forced to depend on the leader for every decision are also liable to be worn out waiting for them to give them a hearing and make a decision.”
Criticism is part of life.
As a consultant, I have worked with many organizations over the years. They represent different industries and have been located in various parts of the world. One constant across these organizations is discontentment with colleagues. This is something prevalent today, was a reality in Biblical times and will be a constant in the future. Chapter 6 of the book focuses on how Moses had to continually deal with criticism and grumbling.
There was a very interesting anecdote in this chapter of an individual who stormed out of church when a guitar was used during a worship song in the 1970s. It definitely seemed like irrational and bizarre behavior. Nevertheless, the pastor sought to understand what had upset this gentleman. It turns out that upset parishioner had donated an electronic organ to the church in memory of his late wife. When the guitar was introduced, the man assumed that was the end of the electronic organ and triggered intense grieving over his wife. This illustrates that sometimes behind an irrational outburst is the opportunity to meet someone who is in deep need of support.
Of course that doesn’t mean we should respond to every grumble and complaint from those in our circle of influence. I resonated with this implication that Alan shared: “Leaders need to learn to distinguish between the kind of conflict and critique that are probably necessary if they are to grow as leaders, and harsh, personal criticism from professional fault-finders. If we don’t get this right we will either be crushed and our leadership will become anemic (if indeed we remain in leadership), or we will become stubborn and our leadership will be blinkered.”
There are many other lessons from the book that I think are particularly useful for those leading ministries or who are Christians working in the marketplace. Alan does a great job drawing upon the Bible, personal stories and analysis from leadership research.