A former professional football player got a job working for an insurance company. During a sales meeting, the manager of the agency was scolding the sales force for a lackluster performance. They weren’t meeting goals _ they weren’t making calls _ they weren’t trying hard enough. The manager said, “Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can’t be replaced!” He then turned to the former football player and said, “In the NFL, when players didn’t meet expectations, they got rid of the player, didn’t they?” The football player looked at the sales manager and said, “Actually, if the whole team was doing bad _ they would usually get rid of the coach.”
With few exceptions, it works the same way in business _ profits lead to promotions, losses lead to someone losing their job. Since leaders are judged by the bottom line, many are willing to do anything to produce results, regardless of how many victims they leave behind.
That kind of leader pays a tremendous price. They invoke fear but often lose respect. Things are done because they “have to be done” not out of loyalty. They rely on bullying tactics instead of cooperation. They always have to look over their shoulder and watch their back, because they know they’re a target. The fact is, it’s exhausting to have to browbeat people to get things done. That kind of leader may get recognition and earn a big salary, but they aren’t content.
Make no mistake: leadership is tough. Even the best leaders get sidetracked. Even the best leaders lose focus and forget the essentials. You may be surprised to hear this, but it happened to Moses. When he led the Israelites out of Egypt there were times when the pressure got to him, and he made some serious mistakes that resulted in some serious problems.
The major mistake that Moses made is the same mistake that many leaders and managers make today. He forgot that leaders aren’t just in the result business _ they are in the people business. The only way a manager can expect to experience long-term positive results is by building long-term positive relationships with people. Now that doesn’t mean that the people were right and Moses was wrong but Moses could have handled the situation better than he did. As we see in Exodus 17 Moses made two serious mistakes that leaders often make.
MISTAKE #1 _ He ignored people’s needs
“…they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” …the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses…” (Exodus 17:1-3)
Now I would never advocate grumbling but understand this, the people of Israel weren’t complaining because room service wasn’t adequate, or because they didn’t get dessert. They were asking for water and water isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. But Moses’ response was “Why do you put the Lord to the test?” Compare Moses to Jesus, who realized the people who had followed Him all day must be hungry, and saw to it that they ate. (see Mark 4:30-44)
When a leader becomes too concerned with the bottom line, he can easily forget that those around him are people with real needs.
MISTAKE #2_ He waited until there was a crisis
The people of Israel were trapped in the desert, and felt helpless. They appealed to Moses for help and at first he ignored them, then he scolded them. Not surprisingly, morale continued to decline until eventually the people were ready to kill Moses. That’s when he knew something had to be done and so he did what we usually do _ he complained.
It is easy for leaders to deceive themselves into thinking that if they ignore a problem long enough it will go away. Unfortunately, problems rarely if ever disappear by themselves. The longer we ignore them, the worse they become. Ignore a chest cold and it can become bronchitis _ ignore a knock in your engine, and eventually it will blow _ ignore a conflict with your child, and it can result in total rebellion.
It wasn’t until the problem became a crisis that Moses even bothered to pray about it then when God spoke to Moses, I am sure Moses was surprised that God’s instructions were for Moses to straighten himself out _ not the people.
Moses was trying to be a leader without making a connection with the people, and it didn’t work. In verse 5 God showed Moses how to make a people connection. It required Moses to change his style of leadership. The result was that the nation of Israel got back on track. In verse 5 of Exodus 17, we see three things Moses needed to change in order to make a people connection.
1) Lead by Example
“The Lord answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people…” (Exodus 17:5) It seems that at times Moses hadn’t been trying to lead the people _ he had been trying to push them. He wanted them to follow him, but he wasn’t giving them anything to follow. A people cannot follow unless the leader is willing to lead.
2) Lead through Teamwork
“…Take with some of the elders of Israel…” (Exodus 17:5)Moses had been trying to be the Lone Ranger, and it wasn’t working. That’s because it is much easier to be a dictator than it is to be a team player. Team leadership is tough, because it requires give and take.
The New Testament model for church leadership is a teamwork model. Why do you think Jesus said,” I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19) Teamwork strengthens the flow of communication between a leader and the people. God told Moses to be a leader to the people of Israel but He wanted a team leader, not a dictator.
3) Lead with God’s Power
“…take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.” (Exodus 17:5)Moses tried to lead the Israelites on his own strength, and it didn’t work. God told Moses to carry his staff _ that staff symbolized the power of God at work in Moses’ life. It represented the authority by which Moses made decisions. The prophet Zechariah shared this: “Not by might, nor by power, but my Spirit” says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)
That is a lesson all leaders must learn: Being a leader doesn’t give you power _ having power makes you a leader. God gave power and authority to Moses, and that enabled Moses to lead the people of Israel. In the same way, anyone who wants to be a leader today must receive power and authority from God. If a leader leads by God’s power, and God’s authority, and depends on God’s presence in their life for strength, he is more likely to stay focused on the real priority of leadership: building people up according their needs by leading them to God.
Leaders must always remember that people are not means to an end. Those who think that way aren’t really leaders _ they’re tyrants. They may get short-term results, but they fail the long-term test. The bottom line is this: Leaders make the effort to connect with people, and they help people connect with God.