7 Lessons on Leadership from the First CEO – Moses
With Passover beginning at sundown this evening, I thought it would be à propos to share a MarketingProfs post I wrote back in 2007:
The Exodus story tells us about one of the world’s first CEOs. With Passover beginning this evening, it seems fitting to look at Moses’ strengths and weaknesses. Was he a good leader? Did he market freedom and the Promised Land successfully?
Whether your religious traditions embrace the Old Testament or not, the Exodus story captures the responsibilities of leadership. Moses certainly has some similarities to present-day leaders, and of course some differences.
(This is a good time for a disclaimer. I am not a religious expert. Several years ago, I took a class on the Exodus. So, if you find inconsistencies from a religious perspective, don’t hold them against me!)
1. It’s OK to question yourself
From my recollection of Old Testament stories, one of the modus operandi of several prophets is that they don’t always think they’re fit for the role; and, in fact, Moses didn’t want the job. He had his doubts, as I’m sure many current leaders do. Self-doubt, reflection, and evaluating decisions may be fairly typical. But not wanting the job may not be as common. Although, I’m sure some leaders didn’t necessarily want to move up but were encouraged and cajoled by spouses, colleagues, the board, etc. Let’s assume these are the minority.
It’s healthy for leaders to question, evaluate, and consult with others when making decisions. However, once a decision is made, it’s also important to go forward with confidence and conviction.
2. Get down in the trenches and listen to employees
Moses grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, having been raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter. Yet, he truly related to and understood the slaves’ life of misery. After discovering his true identity, Moses discarded his Egyptian upbringing and went to live among the slaves, abandoning riches and luxuries. The rest of his life was devoted to freeing his people and listening to their issues.
It isn’t too common that a well-paid leader or CEO will give up the nice, juicy salary and benefits to be on a par with his/her workers (Michael Bloomberg excepted). But a good leader today can only understand his/her employees by getting out of the ivory tower. Taking workers to lunch on occasion or holding regular small group meetings (mini focus groups) is essential for leaders to take the organization’s pulse and learn what others really think. This can only work if employees are free to express their concerns and opinions without retribution.
Moses did well delegating to others. Aaron, his brother, served often as his mouthpiece, compensating for Moses’ speech impediment. An orator, he wasn’t. Miriam, his sister, also assisted Moses in many ways. His father-in-law, Jethro, suggested he delegate lesser affairs to assigned judges, which he did successfully. This shows Moses’ ability to work well with his senior management team. (On the other hand, he did practice nepotism, something certainly frowned on today.)
Leaders can’t accomplish their vision without the help of others around them. Delegating responsibilities helps with succession planning and strengthens the organization. How can others become good leaders without positive role models and mentors? The best way to learn is to do, making some minor errors along the way and learning from them.
4. Forgive or fire
Moses experienced rebellion from within—something many leaders can attest to today. In some cases, the rebels were quashed by death, with the exception of Aaron and Miriam. Moses forgave them for their bad deeds by scolding Aaron and allowing Miriam to suffer from leprosy for seven days!
Strong leaders must decide whether to forgive transgressions made by employees, especially if they were unintentional and without malicious intent. If mistakes caused major havoc or substantial financial loss, then as hard as it may be it’s often best to fire those involved. Once you forgive the big errors, you’ve set a precedent.
Moses marketed freedom to the slaves with his vision of a Promised Land that flows with milk and honey. He never faltered from his mission to bring the slaves “home,” even when things seemed hopeless and they worshipped the golden calf that Aaron built in a moment of weakness.
Moses thought he may have lost his people for good, but his strong sense of perseverance and fortitude prevailed—both good leadership qualities.
Perseverance is a strength that many lack. In this fast-paced, short-attention-span world, it’s challenging to stick things out. But good leaders will stay on track, make adjustments along the way if necessary, and get to completion.
6. Make sacrifices, but not at your family’s expense
Moses sacrificed his own life’s ambitions and family for the journey to the Promised Land. His Midianite wife, Zipporah, and two sons did not accompany him on the trip, but visited once then stayed behind with Jethro, his father-in-law.
The lifestyle and demands of current leaders may contribute to failed marriages and result in not spending time with their children. But is it worth losing families altogether? Sacrifices certainly are required when one assumes a leadership role, but balance and health maintenance should be prioritized. No job is worth losing touch with your family, getting sick, or dying.
7. Vent to someone
In the end, the slaves arrived in the land of Israel. Moses accomplished his strategic action plan. To achieve this feat, Moses had one major advantage. He had the ultimate coach who never failed to push him, believe in his abilities and encourage him along the way.
What makes you a good leader? What do you need to work on? What about your boss? 🙂