Coming Down from the Mountaintop III: Independent Analysis and Shared Responsibility

In our last post, we analyzed Moses' initial response to God's directive. He has been told to descend immediately from the mountain as “his” people had grievously sinned. Following a brief prayer designed to avert immediate disaster, Moses set out to reframe the issue to make it, so to speak, God’s problem more so than his own.

Moses made three points. First, he argued that the people were far more God’s than they were his; it was He who needed to take responsibility for their welfare and bring them back along the path of repentance. He also questioned God’s decision in terms of how it would reflect upon Him from the vantage point of the Egyptians. Lastly, he “reminded” God of His promises to the Hebrew forefathers and how this decision would impact those vows.

By restating the issues in different terms, Moses demonstrated a number of core leadership qualities that we can all learn from. (Author’s disclaimer: The following lessons may appear incomprehensible as they may appear to suggest that Moses somehow “outdueled” God. Nothing could be further from the truth. The main idea in this post is that Moses took advantage of the opportunity that God presented to him to make good of a difficult situation.  In this context, Moses stopped at nothing, including arguing with God Himself, in order to advocate for his people and gain their atonement.)

Take a closer look

Throughout the entire dialogue with God, Moses never accepted matters as they had been presented. This is most remarkable. As a society, we tend to readily accept positions presented by our politicians, members of the media, etc. In this case, Moses heard firsthand from God Himself, the absolute source of truth, about what had occurred and what the necessary recourse was. Still, he analyzed the matter independently, arrived at a different conclusion, and was prepared to share it with his Master, despite God’s obvious wrath.

Oftentimes leaders are presented with a set of “facts.” This information may relate to one of our coworkers and his alleged deficiencies or failures. It may speak to negative ways in which our organization is perceived and the “necessary” steps to remedy the situation. Our inclination may be to fully accept such feedback, particularly when it comes from a credible source or a superior. Such acceptance may ultimately be appropriate, though not before we first analyze the situation on our own and attempt to determine where the truth really lies and how best to respond. We must also be willing to suggest alternative conclusions and approaches, even when such responses may not please the one who first brought the problem to us.

Own the problem

By calling the people “God’s”, Moses broadened the circle of ownership and included his Maker as the one who was primarily responsible for a solution. While it would be most inappropriate to suggest that G-d was attempting to divest Himself of the issue, it is clear that He was initially pushing Moses to take ownership of the situation. Moses, as it were, placed the onus back on G-d, suggesting that He must join in finding a solution, and not simply start from scratch.

Oftentimes, leaders are presented problems that they alone are expected to resolve. Effective leaders understand that most problems, particularly ones that involve others, cannot be solved independently. They also know when and how to bring the problems back to the person who first approached them, and engage them in the process of working towards meaningful solutions, rather than simply presenting the problem and walking away.

In our next post, we will discuss other aspects of Moses' response, including reminding God of His moral responsibility to the forefathers , as well as his intense desire to advocate for his people, even when he was keenly aware of their significant failings.