12 Leadership Principles from the Life of Moses

Among Old Testament Bible characters Moses is looked upon as one of the best leaders. Moses has a unique story which showed God’s divine design for his life. In this post I will share with you 12 leadership principles from the life of Moses.

12 Leadership Principles from the Life of Moses
View from Mt. Nebo which is where God showed Moses the Promised Land. Moses died before the Israelites entered the promised land (Deut. 31).

Photo Credit: Argenberg

Each principle will start with a related Scripture, an observation about Moses, and then a principle about leadership.

(If you want to learn more about leadership check out my book, How Time-crunched Leaders Develop Potential Leaders: A Guidebook for Busy Nonprofit Professionals and Church Leaders.)

1) Exodus 2:11-13

Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand. The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. “Why are you beating up your friend?” Moses said to the one who had started the fight. (All Scripture quotations from the New Living Translation.)


Moses saw what was happening to his fellow Hebrews, and he knew that it was not right. Thinking no one was watching, he took matters into his own hands by killing the Egyptian.


When a leader does something morally wrong, that action can prevent him from having effective leadership. When a leader’s actions do not match what he says, people will not follow his direction or vision.

2) Exodus 3:1-2

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up.


God approached Moses in a foreign land while he was doing the normal work of tending the flock of his father-in-law’s sheep. In that ordinary situation, God approached Moses.


God can approach His future leader wherever he is no matter what is doing.

3) Exodus 3:11

But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”


Moses saw himself as someone not worthy of the task of leading the people out of Egypt. He did not see himself as worthy to appear before Pharaoh or to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.


In His sovereignty, God choses who He choses for leadership. Even if that leader does not seem capable of the task, God can still chose that leader.

4) Exodus 6:12

“But Lord!” Moses objected. “My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m such a clumsy speaker!”


Moses was honest to confess what he perceived to be a weakness but also believed his weakness was stronger than God’s ability to overcome it.


It is okay for a leader to share his unbelief in his own abilities. It is a sign that he is reliant and dependent on God, not himself. However, a leader must believe in God more than his own lack of ability.

5) Exodus 14:13-15

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!


Moses showed faith that God would save him and the Israelites. However, God told Moses to get the people moving. Faith in God was not enough; the people had to act on that faith.


A strong faith in God and His power to save His people is a good quality to have in a leader. However, the leader also needs to play an active role in God’s plan.

6) Exodus 14:31

When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.


The people put their faith in God and God’s appointed leader, Moses, after a miraculous thing happened.


When good things happen people put their faith in the person who led them through what happened. Effective results of leadership allow followers to have confidence in their leader.

7) Exodus 15:22-25

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”). Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink. It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him.


The people complained to Moses because the water did not taste good. As their leader, he is the one they looked to and complained to.


Even if the leader might not be responsible, he has to listen to complaints, even if those complaints are beyond his control.

8) Exodus 18:7-10

So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law. He bowed low and kissed him. They asked about each other’s welfare and then went into Moses’ tent. Moses told his father-in-law everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and Egypt on behalf of Israel. He also told about all the hardships they had experienced along the way and how the Lord had rescued his people from all their troubles. Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel as he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians.

“Praise the Lord,” Jethro said, “for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Yes, he has rescued Israel from the powerful hand of Egypt!


Moses appears to have a close and good relationship with his father-in-law, Jethro.


A leader needs to have at least one close relationship. That person can serve as a “confidant” to the leader whom offers advice to the leader or encourages him when needed.

9) Exodus 18:17-24

“This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.” Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and followed his suggestions.


Moses listened when Jethro gave advice. He did not interrupt him, but listened quietly and patiently.


A leader must be a good listener. This means he stays quiet, listens to what is said, and therefore gets to hear what is being said correctly.

10) Exodus 18:24

Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and followed his suggestions.


After listening to Jethro’s advice Moses immediately puts that advice into action.


A leader must be teachable. This means that he is willing to learn new ways of doing things and that he follows through on what he learns.

11) Deuteronomy 4:1-3, 5-6

And now, Israel, listen carefully to these decrees and regulations that I am about to teach you. Obey them so that you may live, so you may enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you. “You saw for yourself what the Lord did to you at Baal-peor. There the Lord your God destroyed everyone who had worshiped Baal, the god of Peor. . . “Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy. Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’


Moses strongly encouraged the people to obey and be obedient to God’s laws and God’s desire for how they should live.


A leader must urge people to live obediently and faithfully to God. Emphasis must be placed on living correctly in God’s eyes.

12) Deuteronomy 31:9

So Moses wrote this entire body of instruction in a book and gave it to the priests, who carried the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, and to the elders of Israel


Moses wanted the Israelites to be obedient to the law so he wrote the instructions in a book and gave it to the Israelites.


A leader must take steps to ensure that his people are faithful and obedient to God’s teaching. This means the leader should put the teaching in to various forms so the people can retrieve it when needed (video, audio, written, etc.).

Summary of the Leadership Principles from the Life of Moses

One summary that can be made about these leadership principles from the life of Moses is that God is always in charge.

Throughout the life of Moses God was always in charge and always provided direction for what Moses did and how Moses led. Whether it was from when Moses was first called by God in Exodus 3:1-3 (leadership principle #2) or Moses taking steps to ensure the people were obedient to God’s teaching in Deut. 31:9 (leadership principle #12), Moses always had God as in charge.

Another summary of these leadership principles is that Moses allowed God to mold and shape him.

Throughout Moses’s life God was modeling and shaping him as the leader of God’s people. The example of Jethro offering advice to Moses about how to delegate work (leadership principle #9) is an example of how Moses was teachable and allowed God to shape him into the leader needed to lead and shepherd the Israelites.

My Personal Application of these Leadership Principles

My personal application for these leadership principles from the life of Moses is to rely on God and have confidence in Him.

At times I feel inadequate in my own ability to lead people and do God’s work. But based on Moses’s life I think I need to have more belief and confidence in God. I need to have more confidence because if I am allowing Him to be in charge leading the way for me to follow, then He will do what He wants done.

Another application is for me to be a good listener.

In these principles we see Moses listening to God and listening to the Israelites. Most times I feel that I do not listen, do not empathize, and do not affirm the things others say to me as well as I should. This is especially true when people share their emotions and feelings in a situations where I do not share those same emotions and feelings. I need to make sure I am listening to the people I lead and actively adjusting what I say and do in light of what they feel.

Question: What leadership principles have you learned from the life of Moses? 

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at