There is a story in the Bible about a very gifted and competent leader who wasn’t working smart. And with some basic adjustments, took his game to a whole new level. That leader was Moses, and the story is found in Exodus 18.
In Exodus 18 the people of Israel had now been liberated from the tyranny of Egypt and were headed to the Promised Land. Moses had been separated from his wife and boys, so his father-in-law, Jethro, brought them home. The following day Jethro went to work with Moses. It must have been “Take Your Father-In-Law To Work” day in Israel.
The Bible says that Moses took his seat and from morning until evening settled all the disputes and served as the only judge for more than two million people. Think of all the wasted time spent waiting in line to get a few minutes with Moses. It was worse than the DMV office. This was very inefficient and ineffective.
Any dispute that could not be settled was brought to him, no matter how small or big. When Jethro watched this for a day, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” That’s a nice way of saying, “Have you lost your mind?”
Listen to Moses’ response: “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.” Translation: “That’s just how we roll here. There are a lot of needs, and people come to me looking for help. I just stay at it and work until everyone gets an answer.” Sometimes we are so accustomed to doing things one way that we can’t see how broken our thinking is.
What was painfully obvious to Jethro was oblivious to Moses. This wasn’t about heart or sincerity or that he was an incompetent leader. He just wasn’t working smart.
Jethro’s assessment was “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.” Moses was the bottleneck of a system that was broken and creating dysfunction. It was wasting time and energy and wearing everyone out.
When we have poorly devised plan for getting our work done, we will wear out ourselves and our team. You’ll end up spending a lot of sideways energy managing the problems of an inefficient approach to your work. At times it might be wise to consult an outsider like Jethro who can see things more clearly and objectively.
I love that Moses listened to his father-in-law. He was teachable. He didn’t bow up or become defensive. And he didn’t pull rank or remind Jethro that he was the anointed leader of Israel.
The system Jethro proposed was three-pronged: Pray. Teach. Delegate. Moses was to pray and take the people’s needs before God He was to teach the people so they would know God’s laws and be able to settle most disputes themselves. And, he was to find faithful men and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundred, fifties, and tens.
Moses had 4 issues that were keeping him stuck, exhausted, and ineffective. He had a…
1. Priority issue (he wasn’t doing the thing that was most important to his role, which was interceding for the people)
2. Training issue (instead of making every decision, he needed to train the people so they could make most decisions for themselves)
3. System issue (Moses WAS the system)
4. Delegation issue (He needed to find faithful men and delegate. Jethro encouraged him to appoint leaders over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens)
Moses needed to learn how to better manage himself, his work, and others.
The first step is to get clear about your PRIORITIES.
We often mistake activity for productivity. I need to regularly ask myself “Are the activities, programs and tasks I am working on really helping us move toward the accomplishment of our mission?” “Am I investing my time in the highest priorities?”
A “to do” list is not the same as a “must do” list. As John Maxwell says “you cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”
Clear priorities help me say “no” to secondary things so that I can say “yes” to primary things.
One of the tools you might want to consider using is something Bill Hybels developed so that he could be more focused and effective. It is his 6x6 card. It identifies the 6 key priorities he is focused on in the next 6 weeks. There is nothing magical about having 6 priorities or working on them over 6 weeks. The magic is in the clarity of focus. For you it might be 4x4… the top 4 priorities over the next 4 weeks. Find a tool that helps you and those you manage to have laser focus on what is most important.
Before you leave this article, I want to encourage you to spend a few moments answering the following two questions.
What are your 3 highest priorities right now?
What is something you need to stop doing because it is not the best use of your gifts or your time?