I can still remember sitting in a tractor cab feeling stressed about all the things I needed to get done back at the office, when Jethro began rebuking Moses through my earbuds (Exodus 18), which served as a rebuke to me as well. As a leader, I was seeking to impact the world by becoming bigger and bigger, without realizing how big of a problem that was.
Exodus 18 starts in a very good place. Moses tells his father-in-law how big and important God is, which is a really good thing. He recounts for him the story of God single handedly rescuing Israel from the Egyptians, and they both rejoiced and gave God all the glory.
The next morning Moses woke up early and went to work. I can imagine Moses was very excited his father-in-law was going to witness his long day at the office. At the office, Moses stood before the people from “morning till evening”, judging them and solving all their problems. He had to do this “from morning till evening” because everyone needed him. After all, Moses was BIG, important, and irreplaceable.
But instead of Jethro rejoicing at how big, busy, and important Moses was, Jethro rebuked him by asking, “why do you sit alone?” Jethro noticed right away a problem Moses was unable to see. Moses was a BIG leader and that was a BIG problem. The truth is, it’s very good for God to be BIG, but it’s very bad for His servants to be big also.
Moses was big because he felt like all the people needed him, and without him they would all be lost. After all he was the only one who could hear from God, judge their cases, and teach them about God. Therefore he had to be big, or at least he thought so. But Jethro pointed out this leadership style was “not good” because Moses would wear himself out and wear out all the people he was trying to serve.
So how do you fix the big leader syndrome? By becoming smaller to lead bigger. And here are three ways to do that.
1. Small leaders DO LESS to accomplish more (Exodus 18:19-20).
Jethro’s advice to Moses was to focus on the few things ONLY he could do, and stop doing all the things that others could be trained to do. There were a few things that ONLY Moses could do, like go into the presence of God and bring to the people what God said. So Moses needed to spend more of his time doing that, rather than spending all of his time doing everything else.
2. Small leaders MULTIPLY themselves for greater impact. (Exodus 18:21)
We’ve all seen the clown that begins juggling a few bowling pins, and before long has 10 or 15 pins. Those 10-15 bowling pins represent BIG (and bad) leadership. The more pins you try to juggle as a leader, the less time you will give to the few you were made to juggle. So the solution is to start dropping pins.
Jethro told Moses to “look for able men” who can help him judge and teach the people. If you want to lead smaller and impact greater, you must drop some of the pins you are juggling, and empower others to pick them up so they can own them and start participating in the great work you are doing. The key is to focus on what only you can do, and drop everything else so others can use their gifts as well.
3. Small leaders focus on LEADING LEADERS. (Exodus 18:22)
Up until this point, Moses was leading people rather than leading leaders. He was trying to care for all of Israel rather than training up others who could help him do this.
This is another common mistake BIG leaders make. They lead people or tasks rather than leading leaders. And as long as you do this, your BIG leadership will limit your impact.
On the other hand, small leaders learn the art of training others to do what they do. They take time to invest in leaders, who can then take ownership and responsibility in the organization, and act and lead in the same way they would in any given situation. So, instead of having one BIG leader doing everything, there are multiple leaders who are all leading in manageable and effective ways.
Everybody wins (Exodus 18:22-23)
When leaders practice becoming smaller to lead bigger, everybody wins. Jethro tells Moses if you will do this, it will be easier for you, the people will endure, and everyone will go to their place in peace. The harsh reality was that Moses’ BIG leadership style was not working. He was tired, the people were not getting helped, and there was no peace in Israel. He was a one man show and no one was enjoying the popcorn.
However, if Moses got smaller and raised up others to help, all this would change.
Do you desire to have a big impact? If so, you must start leading smaller. You must find those few things only you can do and do them more and more. Stop doing other things, so others can do them. Lastly, you must start spending most of your time leading leaders because through them your leadership multiplies.
When God is big, things are good, but when we are big, things are not. So stop being big, and start being small. Because the smaller you are the bigger your impact will be.
Listen to full sermon here.