17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”
Moses fell into the trap many leaders do. He thought that for things to be done right, he would have to do it himself. He had been appointed by God to lead the people of Israel and for that to be successful, Moses thought he had to be at the center of every decision. So many of us who lead others find ourselves with the same mindset and begin to think that if we’re not directly involved in every decision then things won’t be done right.
It really boils down to control. This control, we’ll tell ourselves, is for the good of everyone. We can’t allow mistakes to happen and when it comes down to it, we probably like the recognition that follows success and would rather not share it. But we see from this scripture that approach to leading isn’t good.
The idea of control isn’t good because although we can potentially increase the success of the task at hand, we limit the number of things that actually get done. If a leader has to touch every decision then the only decisions that will be made are the ones they touch. Conversely, if a leader delegates authority, then more gets done. This is what Jethro was telling Moses.
In addition to simply expanding the amount of things that get done, Jethro lets Moses in on another very important thing leaders must learn. He tells Moses that if he keeps doing things by himself, the stress of that approach will eventually get to him and then the whole thing will fall apart. Jethro tells Moses that its actually ok for things to be easier for him and things will get that way when he shares his burden to lead with others.
It can be difficult to release control over something that matters to us. It can be a challenge to hold onto the responsibility for things to be done correctly even when someone else is doing it. But, we see from this text that God not only holds a leader responsible to get things done correctly, but to get more things done. To get more done, we have to get more people involved.
What Jethro taught Moses has helped me see that my responsibility as a leader is less about perfect outcomes and more about empowering others. I am responsible for casting clear vision, looking for capable people, empowering them with responsibility, equipping them for that responsibility, letting them go it on their own and then being available when they need me to help.
I love the promise that comes with this type of leading… “If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” Isn’t that what every leader should want?