Faith & Leadership Series: The Book of Numbers--A Handbook on Leadership
The Book of Numbers. As a person growing up in a Christian home and attended a Christian school for may years, I’ll admit, I don’t think I ever really paid attention to the book of Numbers. I don’t think we ever even delved into any in-depth studies on it. Through the years, I recall spending weeks of study in Genesis and Exodus, but it halted once we got to Leviticus. We would often skip over Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and pick back up when the Israelites were entering Canaan and kept studying through there. Numbers likely only constituted any of my thoughts when I had to memorize the books of the Bible! It wasn’t until this past year where I dedicated the reading the entire Bible this year where I started to pay attention to these forgotten books of the Bible. I’ll be honest, the end of the Pentateuch may have been a challenge to get through, there are still so many lessons to be learned that are applicable to life and leadership in the modern day.
The main focus of the Book of Numbers is the Israelite’s time wandering in the desert, as well as the preparation to enter the Promised Land. Biblical themes center around preparation and obedience; however, as a leader, I saw so many other themes related to leadership develop throughout the whole Book as Moses prepared the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. Let’s take a look at some of these themes and how Numbers creates a mini-handbook on leadership.
PREPARATION AND ORGANIZATION
Moses had a goal—lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. In order to reach this goal, it was apparent that Moses took many steps to prepare and organize the people for the best journey possible. The steps Moses took included a census of the people, arrangement of the tribes and their camps, identification of the tribes’ responsibilities, as well as laying out clear expectations and ground rules for the journey.
Although we may not be leading millions of people in the desert, the basic principles apply to any leader today. As we move to make a large systems change or organize an institution more effectively, we need to do these things:
Take account of our resources and staffing in order to organize and allocate duties, roles, and responsibilities. (the census)
Group people into teams with clear responsibilities to reach the goal (arrangement of the tribes)
Lay clear rules and expectations for your staff to follow (the Law in Numbers) so there are no questions or confusion about what is expected in order to reach the ultimate goal
RECOGNITION, PRAISE, AND REWARD
I don’t know about you, but I love hearing positive feedback about my job performance or a task I organized, or an activity I accomplished. As leaders, we can be so focused on reaching the end goal and getting the job done, we may forget to recognize and praise people along the way. Even Moses realized that people may need praise and recognition in order to show how important they are to institution and to keep them motivated to contribute their skills to the work and goals of the team.
In Numbers 10: 29-32, Moses praised and promised compensation to Hobab, a man who had great skills in navigating and living in the desert. Due to the Israelite’s long journey, someone with expertise in this area was necessary. Hobab was not sure he wanted to go, but through Moses’ praise and recognition of his skills, Hobab realized he was appreciated and needed by the nation to reach their ultimate goal.
STANDING UP FOR WHAT IS RIGHT
The Bible clearly states over and over again that honest, ethical leaders are needed. It does not matter if you are leading a country, a business, or an organization—this is a necessary component of Biblical leadership. When Moses sent out spies to check out the Promised Land, many of them came back sharing that they did not think they could conquer the land, telling Moses it was not possible, despite the Lord’s commands to enter the land. Caleb, on the other hand, was willing to trust the Lord and spoke the truth about what he saw—that the Israelites could conquer the land.
Caleb was willing to stand up for what was right, even though he had many people against him. As leaders, it is our obligation to stand up for what is right and lead the organization in the right direction, even though it may be unpopular with others, especially other leaders (who may have ulterior motives). As we have seen with unethical leaders, your wrongs will always find you out. It is important that we live ethically and honestly, as it always is worth it in the end, even if that path is unpopular or may not reap the immediate reward.
PREPARING OTHER LEADERS ALONG THE WAY
Many popular and proven leadership theories tout that it is important for leaders to create other leaders. When we leave a company or organization, it is important that we leave it in better shape than when we started and to continue to carry on what we have started. The biggest way to do that is through training other leaders along the way so they may eventually take over once you leave. In Numbers 27, it was clear that Moses had this same idea. He was guided to select Joshua as his successor. Moses modeled and trained Joshua through the years, so that he was able to take over and lead once Moses had passed away.
Although these are general principles, and there are so many other leadership aspects to consider, the book of Numbers outlines four very important aspects of leadership that are integral to any leadership position.
What are your thoughts on the Book of Numbers being a mini handbook on leadership?