What can business leaders today learn from Moses and the Torah portion Vayikra?

In synagogues around the world on the first Saturday in April, Jews began reading the third book of Moses, Vayikra (Leviticus), which begins with the word vayikra.

Vayikra in Hebrew is spelled with an aleph at the end of the word. In the Torah itself, written by Moses himself, the final aleph in vayikra is much smaller than all the other letters. Our sages teach us an important lesson from this.

The Torah presents G-d’s words to the Jewish people as written down by Moses.

Moses had several arguments with G-d, one of them over the use of the aleph in this word. Moses wanted G-d to use the word vayikar, without an aleph, to show that he regarded himself as no better than Bilaam, the heretical prophet. Yet G-d wanted Moses to write it with the aleph as an expression of their true relationship with each other; one of intimacy and affection.

In the final version, Moses agreed to use the aleph only if it was written smaller than usual, alluding to Moses’ great humility.

Lesson No. 1 is that the effectiveness of your leadership will be measured by your own sense of humility.

This lesson applies in business leadership as well. One of my mentors, John Maxwell, clearly states, “The best leaders are humble enough to realize their victories depend upon their people.”

The Harvard Business Review reports that Google’s senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock, says humility is one of the traits he looks for in new hires. And it is not just humility, Bock says, but “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.”

Growing and learning often involve failure and can be embarrassing. But leaders who can overcome their fears and broadcast their feelings as they work through the messy internal growth process will be viewed more favorably by their followers. They also will legitimize their followers’ own growth journeys and will have higher-performing organizations.

Finally, as if we need any more proof that a humble leader is a better leader, leadership expert Jim Collins says that the best leaders have the following characteristics:

  • Demonstrate a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation, and are never boastful.
  • Act with quiet, calm determination and rely principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
  • Channel ambition into the company, not the self, and set up successors for even more greatness in the next generation.
  • Look in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors or bad luck.
  • Look out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company — to other people, external factors and good luck.

I cite these three modern-day experts to teach a lesson we can just as easily learn from Moses. It will serve us well in business to look to our leaders from the past for the best qualities to emulate. An ancient poem sums up this lesson:

Go to the people

Live among the people

Start with what they know

Build on what they have

But of the best leaders

When their task is accomplished

Their work is done

The people will say

We have done it ourselves!

Jason Adler is a John Maxwell-certified executive coach (www.johncmaxwellgroup.com/jasonadler) helping people and their organizations hire and keep quality employees.