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D’var Torah for Entrepreneurs Parsha Bo

In Israel successful entrepreneurs are celebrated, like rock stars, because of their exits; this week’s Torah portion Bo is the story about the ultimate entrepreneur and the largest exit of all time: Moses and his leadership of the Exodus
Scene from the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments where Moses 'parts' the sea to save the Hebrew slaves from the Egyptians. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Scene from the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments where Moses 'parts' the sea to save the Hebrew slaves from the Egyptians. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Many entrepreneurs are focused on the exit — the big payday.  In Israel successful entrepreneurs are celebrated, like rock stars, because of their exits.  This week’s Torah portion Bo is the story about the ultimate entrepreneur and the largest exit of all time. An exit so large that we still celebrate it thousands of years later.  What can we learn from Moses, a reluctant entrepreneur, and his leadership of the Exodus?

Parsha Bo is the moment of the actual Exodus and the beginning of the wilderness journey. Dr. Norman J. Cohen in his book Moses and the Journey to leadership: Timeless Lessons of Effective Management for the Bible and Today’s leaders depicts how leadership skills are developed over a lifetime – mold by successes and failures and building from those experiences.  Moses is the epitome of the growth that a strong leader must endure if he/she is to be successful.  What paradigms can leaders today, learn from Moses? Are they transferable to successful entrepreneurs?

When we first meet Moses, he is a baby being set afloat by his mother in an attempt to save his life.  He is saved by Pharaoh’s daughter and nothing is told, in the Torah, of his life inside the Palace.   Can we assume he received the best education available and afforded other opportunities that a child being raised in the Palace would garner?  Did he receive some leadership training?  This is not unlike the opportunities provided to technology entrepreneurs today in Israel or the U.S.  They may have received training in one of the elite units of the IDF or attended a leading university or been part of another tech start up.

Fast forward, Moses is managing his father-in-laws business (taking care of his sheep), when he gets recruited for a large job.  At first he is reluctant to speak with the recruiter, but a very persuasive case is made to “encourage him” that he is up for the job.  Even though he argues that he is not worthy of the position, in the end, he accepts.

So, here is our CEO Moses with a very strong Chairman of the Board and he is called upon to lead a very reluctant group – not sure they see the need to go off in a new direction with new leadership.  A group, we will learn, that is very fast to complain no matter how impressive the accomplishments, by Moses and the Chairman of Board – they often find fault a very short time later.

As a leader, Moses has to overcome self-doubt and shortcomings – his perceived speech impediment.  How many leaders have over-come physical challenges to become great leaders?  Leaders like Bill Hewlett (Hewlett-Packard) overcame dyslexia to build a major company. Or Steve Jobs who founded and grew Apple also suffered from dyslexia which made reading very difficult.  He goes on to grow one the great companies in the world today.  A good leader often has to overcome personal doubt and physical challenges, this is certainly lesson we learn from Moses, as he/or she grows into the position.

A good leader has vision and, in the case of Moses, he was challenged because his vision often was not shared by the people he was leading.  He had to constantly build up the people to help them see the vision.  How a leader shares his vision is very important to his/her ability to lead.  A leader who cannot translate the vision into acceptance, is leading a group of one and going nowhere.

A leader needs organization, and in an upcoming Torah portion, we will read of the visit of Moses’ father-in-law who helps him build an organization so that he does not have to carry the burden alone.  A good leader is able to be build a functioning organization and not have to do all the work by him/herself.  They need to prioritize their time to be effective.

Just as Moses, in this week’s Torah portion, leads the people out of Egypt, the narrative, for entrepreneurs and leaders, is a case study on leadership development and leadership interaction.  This is a good model for us to gain important insight into our own leadership style and growth.  Leadership is a balance between, sometime, a Board Chair and the needs of employees and customers.  This is the very balance that Moses had to achieve between G-D and the Jewish people.  He had to advocate for both and show both that he was “their guy”.  Not an easy tightrope to walk.

Entrepreneurs can learn much from studying Moses’ leadership growth and style, which will help them transition between stages in the development of their companies and their growth as a leader.  And the story ends, as we are aware, with Moses not making it to the Promised Land.  For many innovators they can take their company so far, and they do not take it all the way as leadership may change..  We can also learn from the transition of leadership and the need for different leadership skills at different parts of the journey.

One can read the Torah through many lens, it is one of the great leadership manuals every produced.

About the Author
Tom Sudow is the Director of the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Ashland University and an Advisor to eHealth Ventures Israel and to SCI (a Chinese investment group investing in Israel. He has worked with Israeli startups for 20 years and has lecture numerous times in Israel. He is also Director of Business Development for Cleveland Clinic Innovations (the 2nd ranked Hospital in the United States).
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