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Leadership Insights from Joshua: 3 timeless principles

I just re-read the book of Joshua in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the story of how the Jewish God helped them to begin the conquest of the Promised Land. For me, this book is one of the most inspiring books in the Hebrew Scriptures, mainly because of Joshua and his fellow leader, Caleb. Toward the end of my reading, I saw three clear leadership lessons emerge.

Leadership Lesson #1

Sometimes goals take a long time to accomplish. While it isn’t apparent with a simple cursory reading, when you look carefully at the early parts of this book and then look carefully at the end of this book, you realize at least 40 years have gone by from the beginning of first chapter until the end of the final chapter. We can race through the story is a few hours of reading, but decades took place between the beginning and the end. Joshua and Caleb were leading their teams for decades.

Leadership Lesson #2

Some leaders stay strong well beyond the years of others. Caleb, Joshua’s second-in-command, is 85 by the time we reach the end of this story. Yet he remains as vital, powerful and influential in his eighth decade as he was almost fifty years earlier when Moses appointed him and Joshua to lead God’s people into their future. As someone in his 50s now, I took great encouragement and challenge from thinking that I should plan on having significant impact and leadership strength for several more decades.   Retirement at 62? Caleb’s feet were still wet from wading across the Jordan Riverbed at that time!

Leadership Lesson #3a, 3b and 3c

Leadership Lesson 3 is actually three lessons, so intimately tied together that we need to see them as a seamless weave of leadership reality. To get the full impact of these three leadership lessons, I need to quote from one of the final chapters of the book, Joshua 19:49 and 50: ‘When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. By command of the Lord they gave him the city that he asked, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he rebuilt the city and settled in it.”

Leadership Lesson 3a: Leaders are at the mercy of the people they lead. The people that served under Joshua’s leadership were the ones who gave him his inheritance. This is not something he took for his own by his own might. His people gave this to him because they believed God told them to do so. He had led them for perhaps forty years by this time, yet he was still at their mercy – they decided to give his inheritance to him. There’s no indication in this passage that he forcefully took. He entrusted himself to his people and his God. He asked, but he didn’t tell; he requested, but they decided to act. As their leader, he looked to them to validate his leadership.

Leadership Lesson 3b: Leaders eat last. Joshua’s reward for leading well didn’t take place until after those he led were given their rewards. Simon Sinek has a recent TED talk entitled, Leaders Eat Last. He uses the military practice of mandating that front-line soldiers eat first, front-line leaders only eat after them, etc., etc. all the way up the line. When do generals eat? Only after everyone else. While this principle may seem to come from the US military, it was actually thousands of years old when Simon Sinek recorded his talk. Joshua didn’t get his reward as a leader until after the people he led had theirs.

Leadership Lesson 3c: Leaders never stop leading. Joshua’s leadership legacy didn’t end with the conquering of the Promised Land. Even in the twilight of his career, he rebuilt the city of Timnath-serah. While the scope of his leadership was not the entire nation anymore, he still led where he lived.

  • Sometimes goals take a long time to accomplish
  • Leaders can stay strong for decades
  • Leaders are at the mercy of the people they lead
  • Leaders eat last
  • Leaders never stop leading

Wow. Lot’s to digest here. If you haven’t read the story of Joshua and Caleb conquering the Jewish Promised Land, I encourage you to do so. While thousands of years old, its lessons are as fresh and relevant as any current leadership thinking.