What Makes a Good Leader | Parashat Yitro

But Moses’ father-in-law said to him: “The thing you are doing is not right. You will surely wear yourself out and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you. You cannot do it alone.” (Exod. 18:17-18)

People who criticize the Bible as being irrelevant to the present are usually the ones who never read it. This week’s Torah lesson is proof of the continuing applicability of biblical thought to the concerns of the living. It deals with the requirements of good leadership.

Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, witnesses Moses’s attempts at administering justice in cases of disputes among the people he was leading. The old man was appalled at the fact that Moses was attempting to do the whole job himself “from the morning unto the evening.” He counsels his son-in-law to learn the lesson of delegating authority. Even more important, he establishes criteria for the appointment of subordinate “chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” These leaders are to be “capable men who fear God; trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain.”

Too often, people in leadership roles fear that unless they make all the decisions, their organizations will fall apart. After all, they are leaders because they are supposed to be the most capable of leadership. Ironically, such thinking often leads to inefficient performance, low morale, and distance between the leader and those with whom he works.
Jethro’s counsel is good counsel. It is said that we have difficulty remembering lessons that we once learned. We need refreshers to remind us, to keep us from taking our associations with others for granted. The lesson of Jethro thus teaches us something of perennial value.