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November 1, 1999
“Business Sense” from Inside Business

Follow Joshua’s Leadership Style

By Mark Fulton

Imagine this job assignment: You’ve just taken charge of 2 million people who have been following a visionary leader for more than 40 years and griping almost every step of the way. The Big Boss has told you (in that deep, imposing voice of His) to cross a seemingly impassable boundary into a new territory, vanquish the competition, make their locations your locations and do it by the book — no shenanigans.

Furthermore, rather than storming the gates of your biggest rival, your team has to hike around its perimeter playing “When the Saints Come Marching In” on their trumpets. Then at just the right moment, everyone is supposed to shout and wait for the walls to fall down.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be on the phone with a corporate headhunter looking for an easier occupation — like selling typewriters in Silicon Valley. Then again, I’m not Joshua, the Old Testament leader who shepherded the Israelites into the Promised Land and showed them how to make the walls of Jericho come a tumblin’ down.

During the next several years, Joshua and the Israelites conquered many of the other cities of Canaan and divided up the land among the tribes of Israel.

What was Joshua’s secret? How did he manage to achieve such astounding objectives and overcome such formidable obstacles with a group of people who often displayed a real talent for aggravating the Big Boss? He did it by using a leadership style that any corporate chieftain can employ to guide any griping clan to the promised land of productivity and profitability — a style I’ve dubbed the Joshua Principle.

In my last column, I commented on three traits that set Joshua apart as a leader: humility, self-control and adherence to unshakable principles. There are three other characteristics evident in Joshua that I believe qualify him for the leadership hall of fame: courage, wisdom and compassion.

Joshua was a courageous warrior. The accounts of his campaigns against the cities of Canaan indicate that he never wavered when carrying out his mission, even in the campaign against Jericho, which called for following somewhat unorthodox orders.

We don’t know what Joshua was thinking, but we do know that he executed his orders masterfully and with a confidence that inspired loyalty. He radiated positive energy.

Are you a cheerful, optimistic and enthusiastic leader? Even in the face of disaster? Or do you raise Cain when chaos visits your camp? Do you have the mettle to map out a bold strategy and point your people toward the possibilities rather than the problems in a task? Is it your custom to say, “Why not?” rather than, “Why?” Courage is the footstool upon which all of the other leadership virtues stand.

General Joshua was more than just a brave guy. He was a thinker. Even with God calling the shots, Joshua realized that there had to be a plan for conquering Canaan. First, capture Jericho to gain a foothold. Then take the hill country, from which the towns in the lowlands could be subdued. Joshua proved that he could both motivate people and make wise decisions — a terrific combination.

“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” So says Solomon in the book of Proverbs. Okay, maybe it’s easy for a guy who possessed unimaginable wealth to talk about spending big bucks on self-improvement. But there is great wisdom in developing a habit of continuous learning. Wise leaders work at broadening their knowledge base by reading, taking classes, asking questions and listening to others.

Perhaps I’m reading a lot into the biblical accounts of Joshua’s exploits, but I believe he had to be a man of considerable compassion. Yes, he punished those who brought God’s wrath down on the nation of Israel and he certainly did a number on the inhabitants of conquered cities. But there are also stories of how he spared people, such as the prostitute Rahab, who helped the Israelite cause.

Ultimately, Joshua seems to have been a fair man — tough, but fair — who must have had incredible patience and sympathy for his people.

Compassion and fairness go hand in hand. A willingness to give someone a second chance must be tempered by a commitment to doing the right thing, even when it hurts. A true leader knows when to nurture a struggling staff member and confront a goof-off. Both are acts of compassion that can help an employee get with the program.

Ignoring irresponsible or rebellious behavior does no one any favors, especially the person who could become a better worker with some proactive correction.

The character of true leadership hasn’t changed much in the last 3,500 years. The Joshua Principle can help you blow down the walls of your competitors and lead your folks to a land of sufficiency, satisfaction and success.

© Copyright 1999 Mark S. Fulton