September 29, 2021
All leaders delegate tasks to others in their quest to accomplish the vision, adding items to their “to do” lists. But serving leaders stop the delegation process long enough to ask a different question of their followers: “What should you stop doing?” They learn from Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses.
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, 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?” (Exodus 18:13-14, NIV, read 13-27, below, for a fuller context.) Jethro was kindly asking Moses to think about what he was doing that he needed to stop. Moses was doing a great thing; he was serving the nation! He was busy from “morning to evening” doing what he thought his job description called him to do. Everyone around looked at him with admiration and respect as a great leader. But Jethro steps forward and asks some hard questions that quickly shape Moses’ leadership journey. Serving leaders do the same for those they lead.
Serving leaders ask “What should you stop doing?” to avoid burnout.
Jethro explains to Moses that if he would stop doing some of the things he was doing, he would be “able to stand the strain” (Exodus 18:23). Moses was working hard but would not be able to sustain the pace of his leadership. Jethro was concerned that Moses would not be able to sustain the pace at which he was working. Serving leaders want the best for those they lead. They see those who follow not as machines for continuous production but as individuals who are gifted but with very human limitations! Serving leaders don’t push people beyond healthy capacity. Instead, they learn to also ask those they lead, “What should you stop doing so that you will avoid burnout?”
Serving leaders ask “What should you stop doing?“ to focus on strengths.
Jethro advises Moses that when he distributes the load, he will be able to focus on the difficult cases only. He would be able to use his strengths in the best way to serve the nation. Leaders who are busy from morning to evening are most likely not serving in the areas of their greatest strengths. Instead, they are doing lots of good things on their “to do” list but not focused on key things that only they can do. Serving leaders repeat Jethro’s question to those they lead to help them think critically about their greatest strengths. They ask, “What should you stop doing that is not your greatest strength?” Their question provokes thinking and perhaps even a change in job description that frees a person to serve in the areas for which they are best suited.
Serving leaders ask “What should you stop doing?“ to develop others.
Jethro asked Moses why he was working alone “while all these people stand around.” He recognized that as long as Moses did all the work, the others would not be developed. They had gifts and abilities which were not being used. Jethro asks Moses to give up some work so that others could grow up! Serving leaders not only consider what things they should stop doing, but they turn to those who follow and ask them, “Who else could do what you are doing now? When will you stop doing that so that others will grow?”
They ask instead of telling because they want the person, they lead to think for themselves and grow in their own ability to lead themselves. They may also ask because, unlike Jethro, it may not be as clear what things on the to do list are causing burnout.
For further reflection and discussion:
Choose one of the highest achievers on your team to think about. Who is that person? Choose specific questions from the list below to prepare for your time with that person. Then meet with them and serve them by asking what you have on your list.
- What things are you doing which wear you out?
- What do you need to stop doing to have a healthy balance in your life?
- Is your present pace sustainable long term? If not, what do you need to stop doing?
- Of all you do for this organization, what do you do that best uses your strengths?
- Of the tasks you do on a regular basis, which ones are not in the areas of your greatest strength? How can you stop doing them?
- Which of your current tasks could be done by someone else? What is needed for you to pass that task on to them?
- What happens to those under you when you continue doing the same tasks over time? Are you allowing their potential to be realized?
Until next time, yours on the journey,
In the next issue, we’ll examine the next question serving leaders ask themselves: “What should I start doing?”
Here is the full story of Jethro’s advice to Moses.
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, 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?”
15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 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. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.
27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country. (Exodus 18: 13-27, NIV)