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Although classical literature has served as a lens for examining leadership in organizations, leadership studies in business, for the most part, have ignored the Bible. In our paper, we aim to fill this gap by exploring the story of Moses and examining the lessons that business scholars and practitioners can learn from this biblical narrative. The leadership of Moses is worth study because the insights that managers will gain may be useful to them in introducing and navigating needed organizational changes and in confronting challenges. In addition, Moses' leadership deserves consideration because such an inquiry will advance our understanding of the various theories and models of leadership. Towards these ends, this paper investigates the leadership of Moses from its beginnings in the royal court of Pharaoh, through the Exodus and the wanderings of the Hebrews in the wilderness, to the loss of that leadership by his failure to adapt his style of leadership to new conditions.
Although classical literature has served as a lens for examining leadership in organizations (e.g., Clemens and Mayer 1987), leadership studies in business have, for the most part, ignored the Bible. This state of affairs is especially surprising since in the Bible one finds a treasure house of leadership case studies. In our paper, we aim to redress this imbalance by exploring the story of Moses and examining the lessons that business scholars and practitioners can learn from this biblical narrative. While God plays a predominant role in this narrative, God's leadership will not be examined. This paper will confine itself to studying the leadership of Moses.
A small number of pioneering studies have recognized that the analysis of Moses' leadership should not be restricted to the field of biblical studies. For example, Lincoln Steffens (1926) viewed Moses as a labor leader, and Wildavsky (1984) and Walzer (1985) investigated Moses in the context of political leadership. Our paper will claim Moses for the domain of business.
The leadership of Moses is worth study within the field of management because the insights that managers will gain may be useful to them in introducing and navigating needed organizational changes and in confronting the ever-constant challenges that are the staple of the contemporary business environment. Moreover, Moses' leadership deserves consideration because such an inquiry will advance our understanding of the various theories and models of leadership, most of which could include the story of Moses as an exemplar, although, inexplicably, few authors have done so.
The Moses story begins as a tale of reversal of fortunes for the Hebrews, whose ancestors left famine-stricken Canaan and settled in bountiful Egypt as guests of the pharaoh. The Hebrew minority, possessing a high birth rate, prospers in Egypt until a new pharaoh from a different dynasty ascends the throne.
Exodus 1:8-22 relates how the new regime, alarmed at the rapid increase of the Hebrew population, institutes a program of state slavery (corvee) in order to arrest this explosive growth. The conditions under which the Hebrews toil--in massive public works projects and agricultural fieldwork--are so harsh and rigorous that their lives are "embittered" (Exodus 1:14). Moreover, when this crushing forced labor fails to achieve its desired result of checking the population increase, the new pharaoh orders that henceforth all Hebrew newborn males are to be cast into the Nile. Into this world of enslavement and infanticide, Moses is born.
After being hidden by his mother for three months, Moses is placed by her in a basket, which she sets adrift in the Nile where it is found by Pharaoh's daughter. Although raised by the princess in the royal court, Moses is aware of his origins. He witnesses his people's "burdens" and is disturbed by their plight (Exodus 1:11).
The Beginnings of Leadership
In elaborating on his concern for his kinsfolk, the biblical narrative recounts two incidents that portray Moses as a self-confident individual who pursues justice and who is quick to take the initiative. In the first, Moses kills one of Pharaoh's officers who is "striking" (mkh in Biblical Hebrew, which can be interpreted as either killing or beating) a slave. Virtually all biblical commentators agree that Moses' act shows him to be a man of integrity, one who is courageous and "full of a strong sense of justice and sympathy with the suffering [of his people], in their service readily giving up all material [royal] advantages" (Driver 1953, 13). However, the Bible is silent concerning the appropriateness of Moses' act. The ambiguity of the term "striking" has led to a debate among biblical scholars as to whether the killing of Pharaoh's officer is a justified--and, indeed, the only ethical--response to an attempted killing or is a youthful, impetuous, albeit well-intentioned, overreaction to a non-lethal beating (see Childs 1974, 27-46). Advocates of the latter view note that although possessing good traits, Moses, at this point in time, needs "training and disciplining" so that these traits can be harnessed to their full potential and thereby "produce worthy fruits" (Driver, p. 13).
In the second incident, another tale of rescue, Moses intervenes in a fight between two of his kinsmen and separates them. After rebuking the aggressor, Moses is taunted by the latter: "Do you mean to kill me as you killed" the royal official? (Exodus 2:15). Moses now fears that his killing of Pharaoh's officer is public knowledge and, indeed it is; the matter has reached Pharaoh who seeks to slay Moses.
Moses flees to the land of Midian where, immediately upon arriving, …