Torah Tuesdays: Some Lessons on Leadership and Followership from Moses Our Mentor [Part I]

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These lessons are from the Torah reading of this coming Shabbat, Parshat Sh’lach [Numbers 13:1-15:41]. This lesson will deal solely with chapters 13 and 14, drawing forth some lessons for all of us on what it means to follow and what it means to lead. In this section, Moses sends out twelve spies to reconnoiter the Land of Promise in order to gain information helpful for strategic planning. However, the possession of the land is a given, since God has already promises it to the descendants of Israel.

Principle #1 – [See Read Numbers 13:1-20.] – When you delegate a job to be done, pick your people carefully and give explicit directives.

In this passage Moses chooses twelve men to go in to spy out the Land of Promise. These men were each a nasi [prince, leader], and are called roshei b’nei Yisrael, heads of the children of Israel. Moses has reason to believe these to be competent men, for they are indeed big shots. And he has reason to believe that since each represents his respective tribe, their verdicts on the Land of Promise will carry weight with those whom they represent. Moses is apparently taking no chances: he carefully stipulates what he wants the men to do, being quite detailed about it:

images Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.”  (Numbers 13:17-20 ESV)

Delegation is an earmark of a competent executive: but so is careful communication. And one of those areas where good communication is essential is in specifying the task in question. This truth is developed superbly by Sam Carpenter in his fantastic book, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less, 3rd ed. (Austin, Tex.: Greenleaf), 2012. In his book, Carpenter insists that it is the executives responsiblity to work out standard operation procedures for every operation performed in his company, but prior to that to work out a Statement of a Strategic Objecitive, what the company is about, and Operating Principles, its values and ways of thinking and doing. In such a culture little is left to guesswork. And Moses is doing that here: he tells these men exactly what he wants them to determine. In addition, when one is delegating a responsibility to one or more people, it is wise to do as Moses did here, to choose competent people who are respected by those to whom they will be reporting on their findings.

Principle #2 – [Read Number 13:21-29] It is not enough to choose as leaders people of ability: attitude and emotional caliber are also crucial. In leadership studies we speak of Task Behaviors and Relationship Behaviors. Both are crucial. Every day, work-place professionals have occasion to note how even the most competent professionals can be woefully incompetent or inappropriate in how they relate to others.  Certainly that was the case with ten of the twelve spies. Under pressure they panicked, stampeding themselves and all Israel into needless and exaggerated catastrophic thinking.  It cannot be said often enough: a great resume is unselss as a measure of workability unless one has deep reason to believe that the party in question “plays well with others.” This is why Paul directs Timothy in this fashion: “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV). It is not enough that they are able to teach–they must have appropriate character qualities, in this case, faithfulness [dependability].

Principle #3 – [Read Numbers 13:30-14:4] –  Even in crisis situations, there will be people who keep cool heads and maintain their perspective. These are especially valuable people. Caleb and Joshua have faced the same stresses as all of the other spies, but they respond entirely differently. The Bible says they had “a different spirit,” meaning their attitude set them apart in a good way.  Look for such people. Value them. Reward them. How a person functions in a crisis is the measure of the man or woman.

Principle #4 – On the other hand, there will be people with bad attitudes who severely damage the community because their toxicity spreads like a rapidly replicating virus.  This was the case with the other ten spies. It is not just that they had a bad attitude.  In situations such as they faced, faith is a choice, a choice they failed to make.  Instead they spewed forth unbelief and catastrophizing, infecting the entire community which admittedly was already vulnerable. So these leaders disqualified themselves on two counts: they failed to trust God and they failed to restrain their speech.  This was a deadly combination. It is for this reason that Ken Haugk, in his valuable book, Antagonists in the Church, says that whenever anyone in a congregation destroys the peace of the congregation, leaders must deal with such a person. This is a form of behavior that must not be ignored. And as we shall see, HaShem does not ignore it either

Principle #5 [Read Numbers 14:5]– True leaders do not have the luxury of panicking and bailing out. They show their mettle by staying engaged when things get chaotic. Moses and Aaron are devasted. The best word for it is to say that they are radically appalled at how the nations is turning against the God who brought them out of Egypt with his outstretched hand and with great signs and wonders. This is why Moses and Aaron fall on their faces–it is a sign of how devastated they are. But the do not disengage. A true leader stays in the midst of the storm of conflicting opinions, in the center, not at the periphery, seeking to still the raging of the storm. What a leader is in such a crisis is the measure of what he or she truly is. And Moses is truly great.

Principle #6 [Read Numbers 14:6-10] – People of established faith see the same situations entirely differently than do others, chiefly through the grid of the promises of God. Joshua and Caleb went through the same situations as the other spies. They had the same life experience, and the same encounters with the people of the Land. Yet their response is 180 degrees removed from that of the other spies. How is that?It is because they chose to remember and depend upon the promises of God. In this sense, faith is not something you have or don’t have. Rather it is a choice you either exercise or fail to exercise: and Joshua and Caleb come through with flying colors.  Their crisis was what the great jewish Mussar teacher Rabbi Eliyahu E. Dessler called a “b’khira point”–a crisis of choosing. It is our choices which reveal and shape our character and our faith. The challenge for all and each of us in each situation of life is to make the choice of faith. It is that simple. It is that magnificent. It is that which reveals, defines, and shapes who we are in the sight of God and humankind.

We will share five more of these principles next time. Meanwhile, think on these things, and remember the words of our Messiah: “If you know these things, you shall be blessed if you do them.” May God be with you in your thinking and your doing.

 A leader is a person with God-given capacity and a God-given responsibility,

who is influencing a specific group of people toward God’s purposes for the group.

– J. Robert Clinton



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