Exodus 18:17-25 tells the story of Jethro’s advice to Moses. The setting is in the wilderness near Mount Sinai. Moses was leading about two million people out of Egypt (i.e., the nation of Israel) when Jethro saw that he, Moses, was not managing their exodus effectively.
Jethro’s advice reveals three timeless management principles that still apply today:
Listen to others.
In verses 17-18 Jethro is speaking to Moses when he says:
“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice.”
And, verse 24 adds, “Moses listened to his father-in-law [Jethro] and did everything he said.”
Moses was not a know-it-all manager; he listened to Jethro. Despite his vast responsibilities and many previous successes, Moses remained open and approachable. He continued to learn new things from others.
Moses understood Proverbs 9:9 and applied it to his own life: “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still.”
The best managers listen to the talented people they work with. Caution: big egos have little ears.
Equip your team.
Jethro instructed Moses to be a manager and a teacher. In verse 20 Jethro tells Moses, “Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.”
Jethro’s advice was to “show them the way.” Moses shared his knowledge and equipped his followers to make more of their own decisions.
Promote the capable.
“But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens … That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you … He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people.”
Promote others who can share your management responsibilities. Moses made his load lighter by promoting key people within his sphere of responsibility. He “made them leaders of the people,” but Moses was also selective–he only promoted those who were capable and trustworthy.
Listen, equip, and promote. Moses was a leader who raised-up other leaders. What worked for Moses in the wilderness will also work for you in your workplace today.