Succession Planning in the Old Testament

May 13, 2022

Moses—the visionary leader who led the Hebrew tribes from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan—was not allowed to lead the tribes across the Jordan River to the promised land to which he led for forty years. Feels like unfair treatment of a loyal servant of God, doesn’t it? The explanation given by those who wrote the Testament is that it was a punishment for disobeying God; Moses hit the rock to get water rather than talking to it as he had been ordered to do.¹

I suggest a different interpretation: Not crossing to the promised land was not a punishment, but rather, a reward for being the loyal servant that he was.

I came to this insight after many years of observing the problems that company founders often have when making the transition from one stage of the organizational life cycle to the next. They try to avoid the “Founders Trap,” in which organizational survival depends on who (as organizational realities change) should be the next to lead the company¹.

In the case of Moses, leading people who were not always willing to be led, required him to be a visionary, an (E). He kept his followers moving with promises of a land of milk and honey and urged them to keep the faith. Moses, to me, founded the Judaic religion by communicating all the rules and policies God wanted the Hebrew people to follow. Abraham is the biological father of the Hebrew people, but it is Moses who institutionalized what it means to be an observant Hebrew. (Jewish people are descendants of Juda, just one of the twelve Hebrew tribes, the others were exiled and mostly disappeared.)

Once the Hebrews crossed the Jordan River and arrived at the gates of the promised land, they needed a new kind of leader. They needed a (P), not an (E). They needed to realize the promise, to conquer and settle the land. It was now time to stop promising and talking and instead fight and act. Joshua, the strongest fighter—the (P)—was appointed to lead.

If Moses had crossed into the promised land, his leadership would have interfered with Joshua’s leadership. He would have been in conflict with his followers and stopped being regarded as a revered prophet.

Moses’ place of burial is not known. This was his second reward to become eternal. He became more than a human being—he became a concept, with no face, no form. The Jewish people pray to God by reading the Torah, praying to concepts, not to a physical entity. Moses, too, became a revered concept—not a place to come and worship in.

God did not punish Moses. God rewarded him.

The lesson to be learned? Not all hardships in life are punishments. They might be a blessing in disguise. Second lesson, founders of companies, know when and HOW to go and free for others, who are not necessarily like you, the space to lead.

1. Ichak Adizes: Managing Corporate Lifecycles (Adizes Institute Publications)

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes