The World’s First Management Consultant

Moses had a problem.

He had just led hundreds of thousands of the descendants of Israel out of Egypt, and was on a journey to a new land, a homeland promised generations ago to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel).

And they were pecking him to death.

Moses was the leader. And everyone came to him with their problems, their disputes, their needs. Everyone. That sounds like a prescription for maximum-strength Prozac.

Fortunately, a man named Jethro came along (would you listen to a consultant named Jethro?). Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law, but more than that, he was a wise and sensible fellow. A giver of good advice. A leadership and management consultant.

You can read about the entire encounter here in Exodus 18, and I’d urge you to do so for background (it’s fascinating). But in short, Jethro noticed that Moses was absolutely wearing himself down to shreds by sitting in judgment over the entire nation, dispensing instruction and settling difficulties. Morning, noon, and night – “Moses, what about Aaron’s son’s hair length?” “Moses, he took one of my sheep!” “Moses, what should be the dowry for a one-eyed wife?” And perhaps, “How do I change the settings on my Facebook page, to block those pesky Egyptians?”

No wonder Jethro said, as he watched this exhausting parade, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you, you cannot handle it alone.”

So, you’ll see as you read the passage, that Jethro gave Moses very wise advice about creating an inner circle of trusted people, delegating responsibility, and focusing on the big stuff. He saved Moses’ bac…well, lamb chops, and had a significant impact on the life of the nation for many years to come.

Jethro also provided, for us, three tremendous lessons in management.

    1. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that you can do it all alone (v. 18). You may be competent, but you’re not omnipresent, all-wise, and all-powerful. God alone has those attributes – and in human communities, since no one person can do it all, you are dependent on collaboration, outsourcing, and great talent selection.
    2. If you’re meant to lead, don’t get lost in the weeds (v. 19). Stick with the highest tasks and responsibilities. That’s where you’re a lot more indispensable.
    3. Choose the best. Look for people of character (v. 21). Trustworthy folks who can be counted on in the “inner circle.”

Many things can only be accomplished via larger communal efforts, in business and in every other endeavor. But only by structuring things so that the right people are on the bus, and in the right seats on the bus, can it all work well.

Jethro’s advice was free to Moses, and is free to you. It’s also just as timely as it was thousands of years ago. What can you learn from the world’s first management consultant?

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

7 Responses to The World’s First Management Consultant

  1. C De Bie says:

    That is the smartest analogy I have read in a long time – thank you so much, it will definitely stick… Please don’t mind if I plagiarize you (I’ll try to remember to cite my source).

  2. Joe Ruiz says:

    Good stuff. Timeless advice! Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Delightful use of scripture, Steve. Following the story, we get to see how Moses uses the management advice in Numbers 11:10-17. In this instance, Moses goes to super senior management — God — for help.

    While you’re at it, see: Numbers 12 for an early example of what happens to women in management who call out inequities!

  4. Pingback: Moses: The World's First Management Consultant

  5. This is a great read! It seems like this shows the progression of Moses from Manager to Leader. While he was already the established “leader” his work seemed dominated by trying to manage the Israelites rather than fulfilling the Leadership role, creating a vision and mission for them as God had intended. In Seth Godin speak, Jethro seems to come on the scene as the Linchpin who enables Moses to migrate in his roles. Glad I came across this read!

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