The qualities that make a great leader, revealed through the biblical Moses and contemporary ideas on leadership.
Just as leadership is essential for effective management, successful management depends on effective leadership. While each role is important to the proper functioning of any organization, a leader, whether of an entire enterprise or a part of something greater, is a rise above a manager and must possess particular attributes that managers, and those who report to them, should respond to favorably in order to achieve collective aspirations for organizational success. The particular qualities a leader should possess are a matter for debate because it can be rationally argued that cultural differences play an important role in how leaders function. However, as I argue in my new book, Religion and Contemporary Management: Moses as a Model for Effective Leadership (New York & London: Anthem Press, available in hardcover and ebook formats from all book sources), the biblical Moses provides an excellent example for consideration by aspiring leaders.
Although few might think of Moses as a ‘leader’ in the contemporary business and political sense, Moses is not only among the most significant leaders in Western civilization but is also arguably the quintessential example of a powerful leader from whom much can be learned by anyone entering and occupying leadership positions. Moses not only maintains a prominent position in the monotheistic tradition – particularly respected by adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – but also as a figure of influence in secular life through his example as a leader of the ancient Israelites.
Traditionally regarded in Judaism as the greatest prophet of all, and indeed a highly respected prophet in both Christianity and Islam, the leadership traits and skills learned from studying Moses are by no means limited to adherents of Judaism but can be emulated by anyone who would like to become a better leader from examining this most worthy of models.
The Bible sketches an ambitious list of leadership traits ascribed to Moses, including humility, empathy and heroism, but also patience, self-reflection, charisma and wisdom, among others. Although few can emulate all of these traits, humility is one that stands out. The Book of Numbers stresses that “Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth” (Num. 12:3). Hence, humility was clearly deemed an important trait and one that ought to be emulated by more people aspiring to lead others. After all, what is humility but the opposite of arrogance? Most people have an understandable dislike for arrogant leaders.
The book considers various types of leadership approaches that have been advocated by scholars over the past century. Moses’ example as described in the Bible is analyzed to assert why Moses’ approach makes for an appropriate and compelling form of leadership today.
While present leadership and management vocabulary might differ from the Hebrew Bible, many of the notions advocated by modern leadership theorists appear to parallel major behaviors, traits, functions, experiences and actions ascribed to Moses, especially apparent in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – the Torah.
Despite Moses’ success as a leader, he also had human imperfections such as a temper, a speech impediment, fear and self-doubt. Yet, rather than representing weaknesses, these human flaws ultimately contributed to his leadership ability because he had to struggle with them and, in many cases, transcend them.
Anyone can view Moses through the lens of a particular religion, whether shared or not, and still learn considerably from the experience. In Religion and Contemporary Management, one will find Moses depicted as heroic, charismatic, and certainly empathic. Yet, Moses also shows transactional, transformational and visionary leadership qualities. Hence, this book carefully discerns why Moses, with his many important qualities, represents such an important example of effective leadership for prospective leaders in contemporary times.
This article first appeared on the Woolf Institute Blog, Cambridge, England.