Leadership Lessons from Moses

Texts and beliefs By Niki Jackson 23rd Jul 2020

In Parashat Devarim, we meet the Israelites just as they arrive at their camp in Moab and are preparing to finally enter the land of Israel. After 40 years of wandering this is another one of those seminal moments in our history.

Moses seems to be reflecting on his time as leader and possibly contemplating his legacy as he begins to impart his words of wisdom to the Israelites.

I do wonder, had there been commentators in those days what they would have made of Moses’ valedictory speech.

Undoubtedly the transformation in his leadership has been immense as have been the challenges.

From the stammering insecure moments at the burning bush, pleading with Pharoah and needing his brother by his side, leading us with confidence out of slavery, receiving the 10 commandments and then smashing them up,  losing his temper and calling everyone a bunch of rebels! 

Not an easy journey for any leader.

Were Moses’ final words similar to today’s nervous parents sharing their last words of wisdom with children who are leaving home or was this more like Obama’s epic mike drop moment of ‘Obama out’?

Moses begins by reminding the Israelites of their eternal relationship with God. Leadership analysts would praise him for reminding the people of the big picture – the mission statement. Next he employs some reassuring tactics as he explains the system of judges that he’s established who will oversee the tribes and support them with problem solving.  Then he reflects on the amazing journey they have travelled together, offering advice not to be afraid as they enter the land of Israel.  The reminiscing both binds the people together in shared memories but also reminds them of their duty to teach these stories to their children.

When Moses discusses the reports from the spies he shows that he’s not afraid to share the difficult news with them. He tells them, without hesitation or apology that those who lacked belief and demonstrated negativity would not be entering the land of Israel. There’s no berating or blaming people just a clear rationale that if they couldn’t trust god then they weren’t worthy of the prize. This newfound confidence in Moses, shows that he is no longer scared of having those tough conversations and that he is finally capable of being a strong decisive leader.

He makes the decision that out of the spies only Caleb and Joshua and will be going into Israel. He trusts them because of their positivity and praises them as excellent role models showing the others the values that he approves of. 

Moses also says that it is the children who ‘do not yet know no good from bad’ who are to inherit the land. The phrase used may be a throwback to Genesis when Adam and Eve are being shut out from the Garden of Eden when they learnt the difference between good and bad.  וּמַה הִיא יְחִידוּתוֹ? לָדַעַת טוֹב וָרָע  3.22.  In Devarim  we see the children being given the opportunity because of their innocence. Perhaps entering Israel for the next phase in our history paved the way for a new Garden of Eden opportunity. In education we always talk about every child needing a clean slate, especially when things have gone wrong for them. New beginnings, second chances, learning from our mistakes are the inherited right of our young people.  Perhaps Moses’ was learning to let go and trust others and allow the young people the opportunity to grow into their future leadership roles. 

As an educator I personally am more confident as a school teacher than I am a leadership analyst so my end of school report for Moses might read something like this.

It has been wonderful to watch Moses’s confidence grow over the last few years. Whilst reluctant in the early days to take charge he has been open to new learning and has been able to learn from his mistakes. He leaves us a clear thinker, an excellent problem solver, an enabler and is no longer afraid of new challenges.

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