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4 Ancient Leadership Lessons

Michelangelo’ statue of Moses in Rome – via Creative Commons credit Atlas922000

I’d like to welcome new visitors who may have found this blog via my guest post today over on Michael Hyatt’s site.

This particular piece below is a re-posting of something I wrote back in April.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about 5 Ancient Leadership Mistakes which explored five leadership shortfalls of the Israelite  Moses.

You may recall that Moses lived nearly 3,400 years ago and is credited with leading the Hebrew nation out of Egyptian slavery.

In that companion post,  it may have seemed on the surface to be a piece that focused on the failings and foibles of the great Hebrew leader.

Actually, it was intended as a tribute to his humanity and a critique of the pitfalls that can befall any leader. Without question, Moses was one of the greatest and most influential leaders in recorded history.

It only seems fair to showcase some of the positive things that he did as well.

This current post seeks to build on those learnings gleaned from some of Moses’ miscues and strives to reveal some of the more effective qualities he exhibited as a leader, resulting in the successful completion of his lifelong objective to deliver the entire Hebrew nation from slavery. Here are four successful leadership traits of Moses:


1. Seasoned Veteran – Moses was about 80 years old when he led the Hebrew nation out of Egypt. He was extremely smart from the education and training he received while raised in Pharaoh’s palace. Additionally, he had refined survival skills from his subsequent 40 years in the wilderness of Midian.

Moses’ education and life experiences had equipped him to handle virtually any situation. And when an unfamiliar scenario arose, he sought divine direction which always led to optimal outcomes for the entire nation when those directives were followed. Simply state, there’s no substitute for experience regardless of the nature of the endeavor.

Teams Make Better Decisions Than Individuals

2. Listened to Advice – According to Exodus chapter 18, Moses heard and adjudicated the pleas and cases of any and all members of the traveling city. He appointed himself as the single judge and arbiter of God’s will, which ultimately wore him out.

For whatever reason, and it’s not specifically detailed in the scriptures, Moses refused to relinquish this particular role even though it was very draining until his father-in-law gave him some good advice about delegation.

Ultimately, Moses yielded to the counsel of Jethro and shared the responsibility and burden. The lesson here is that teams make better decisions than individuals and effective leaders must rely on the input from others.

Leaders Take Action

3. Took Decisive Action – One of the biggest challenges for a leader is seeking out necessary information before making a decision to act. Unfortunately, this process can get protracted and often results in “analysis paralysis” and inaction. The bible clearing portrays Moses as a man of decisive action and deeds who was used by God.

Examples of divinely-inspired actions that manifested through Moses include: the 10 plagues of Egypt; the parting of the Red Sea; destruction of the Egyptian army; praying and receiving manna from heaven every day for 40 years; having water flow from a rock; praying and receiving enough quail to feed the people – these are all examples of decisive action taken by a committed leader.

Even believing in God to intercede for the Israelites was a conscious act by Moses that he routinely exhibited. The bottom line is that successful leaders are fully engaged in every endeavor and ready to act when needed.

Leaders Know Their People

4. Understood Human Nature – the biblical tradition holds that Moses wrote the first five books of the bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), yet he understood that after he died it would only be a matter of time before the Hebrew nation drifted from God.

Moses stated in Deuteronomy 31:27 “..If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!”

His writings helped codify conduct, teachings, traditions and rudimentary laws for centuries and became the basis for the current legal system of the western world. The best leaders recognize and leverage the strengths of their people while helping to shore up the gaps and weaknesses. Moses was no different.

His commitment and dedication to capture a rule of law in writing, served the nation of Israel as an ethical touchstone for centuries.

Question: What other qualities do effective leaders share?

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  1. The best ones I have known care about people.

  2. Kelly louise mooney says:

    I love this post – so much so ive wrote the 4 leadership rules down so I can see them everyday :-)

  3. Humility is a quality that leaders need to have and I believe Moses showed that quality which helped the people to love and trust him. Thanks for the great post we can all learn from your points.

  4. KellyJYoungblood says:

    I especially like your first point. Too often we do not rely on people who have experience; we think we know it all and can do it all on our own. I have seen through another person’s experience how much arrogance and pride come with that.

  5. Love it Tor we have much to learn from the ancients and this one in Leadership is great testimony to how good leaders could and should behave today.
    I am sure you are displaying these traits!

    Gratitude Grace

  6. I agree, Tor, that Moshe demonstrated some interesting traits. Curiosity is one- in spite of the distance, he still checked out the burning bush. Intervening when an Israelite was assaulting another- at personal peril. Intervening on behalf of the people to remind the SB that some of the intended actions would have the opposite impression in the world (i.e., What would the world say if you eradicated this people for their sins- would they believe you had the intention to bring them to the promised land?) Intervening on behalf of Miriam. Training his successor (Joshua)….
    The list goes on and on…

  7. I’m not sure I’ve got the facts straight, but I think Moses was commendable on one more respect — I think I heard that he was not eloquent in front of people, and that he had to conquer this weakness in order to become a leader for the people. If this is true, then he is also an example of how to set aside, to forget personal fears, weaknesses and obstacles, in order to serve a necessity that encompasses more than our little self and our inhibitions.

  8. If I may, Moses knew when to be decisive and also when to delay a decision. I can’t count the number of times someone comes to him with a loaded question. Rather than just saying what he thought, he would go pray and talk to God about it. Then he would bring the answer.

    I could go on and on about him.

    He didn’t seek out leadership, but he knew that God called him into it.

    He empowered others to lead and didn’t mind sharing his authority.

    I feel like you are baiting me into this post. :)

  9. Great post. As pointed out below, I think great leaders have typically shown that they didn’t, themselves, think they were all that great. At least not in the beginning. As mentioned about Moses being “slow of tongue” and that he did not seek to be in a position of authority but was sought out to take on the role of a leader by God. Thanks for a great read.

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