Jessica K Johnson is a Senior Director over IP and Product Development, as well as a Principal Consultant for The RBL Group—a consulting firm specializing in Leadership, HR and Organization Design. She’s a certified coach and enjoys helping leaders have a greater impact and deliver strong results. Jessica serves in a Stake Primary Presidency in Springville, Utah and loves spending time with her family. For more of Jessica’s insights, listen to her Leading Saints podcast
We know Jethro as the father-in-law of Moses and the high priest of Midian and though the Old Testament doesn’t share much, we are allowed a glimpse into Jethro’s strong leadership capabilities.
While Jethro probably didn’t have a formal leadership position in Moses’ area, he fulfills the important role of trusted advisor to a meek Moses. Because he has built a strong relationship with Moses over many years and takes the time to see and understand what’s happening, Jethro can be direct with Moses and share his suggestions for improved organization design of the Camp of Israel. Here are a few lesson’s I’ve learned from Jethro.
Early in Moses’ life, when he fled Pharaoh’s wrath and landed in Midian, he was welcomed by Jethro after helping the priest’s daughters draw water:
“And he [Jethro/Reuel] said unto his daughters, And where is he? why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread.”
Jethro goes on to not only feed Moses for a day, but give him a home, ordain him to the Melchizedek Priesthood, and eventually, Moses marries Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah. All of these actions build a strong foundation of trust between the two leaders.
Years later, Jethro takes the time to personally bring his daughter and grandchildren back to Moses who has victoriously lead the Children of Israel in battle.
“And Moses went out to meet his father in law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent.”
Moses respects his father-in-law, and Jethro respects Moses’ authority. If we desire to be leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we can build trust by taking the time to get to know our leaders and be someone they can rely on regardless of the situation. Strong foundations of trust allow for more valuable council within our counsels.
Research tells us that though we spend a lot of time hearing, only between 25-50% of that time are we engaged in really listening. Helping others feel understood happens even more infrequently.
Jethro invests time listening to Moses and helping him feel understood.
“And Moses told his father in law all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them.”
The best leaders are those that have developed a strong listening ear and show they are curious about the other person by asking powerful, open-ended questions—signaling they’re interested in learning more. When a person feels understood they are more likely to be open to hearing the perspective of, and even feedback from, the person who understands them.
When was the last time you really felt like someone listened and understood you? It’s a gift I wish we could all wrap up and give more often.
The following day, Jethro spends time observing Moses’ daily activities. Elder Bednar calls the skill of being “quick to observe” a spiritual gift. Jethro employs his gift for observation and then gets curious. He’s seen how Moses spends his time—sitting in the judge’s chair from morning until evening with a constant stream of his people coming by to gain his assessment on every matter—and he wants to understand fully, so he asks Moses a number of questions.
Why is this an important skill to have in being a good leader? Elder Bednar states,
“Being quick to observe is an antecedent to and is linked with the spiritual gift of discernment. And for you and for me, discernment is a light of protection and direction in a world that grows increasingly dark.”
Because Jethro takes the time to observe, the Spirit helps him discern a new way—a better way—for Moses to manage his interactions with the Camp of Israel. He also has plenty of data to back up the frank feedback he is about to share.
Tell the Truth, in Love
There are times when each of us may need to be a “plain-speaking Jethro” to the leaders we work alongside, and who serve us. Because Jethro has built a foundation of trust, and taken time to listen to and observe Moses, he boldly shares his thoughts and recommendations in a spirit of love.
Ephesians 4:15 – “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:”
Our Savior frequently spoke things that were difficult for people to hear, but if they listened deeply to the message, it was always communicated with love and with the intent to benefit the hearer.
Jethro shared with Moses his assessment of the situation—with a loving concern for both Moses and his people: Exodus 18:17-18
“And Moses’ father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.”
Outside voices can help leaders recognize their blind spots when they’re unaware of the consequences of their actions, or just too close to them to come up with a new solution on their own. Look for individuals that are new to the Ward or a calling, and ask them what they see or what ideas they have. They may see things differently than those who are in it every day.
Then we need to emulate Moses and be meek in our acceptance of feedback. Like Elder Maxwell said, “Blessed are the meek, for they are neither easily offended by counsel nor aggravated by admonition.”
Bring Solutions Jethro offers caution and productive criticism about the situation, and also shares a solution—helping Moses to focus on the weightier matters.
“And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:”
Leaders in the Restored Church have a strong work ethic, but there is a tendency to take on too much. Additional wise counsel from Elder Maxwell, “Prophets need tutoring, as do we all.” Accepting tutoring from inspired advisors, and sharing the load with counselors, is a significant part of the divine design of the Lord’s Church.
Jethro understands Moses’ unique role and doesn’t want to usurp that. I appreciate how he suggests that Moses inquire of the Lord to make sure it was His will to delegate as Jethro has recommended.
Jethro is a wonderful example of how leaders can be found throughout our congregations—even if they aren’t in formal leadership positions. His perspective and crisp counsel, guided by listening and personal observations, aid Moses as he continues to guide the Children of Israel forward. In turn, as we seek and receive counsel from a variety of “Jethros”, may we be humble and teachable to their insights and suggestions.