Our study in Exodus 18 of Jethro as an effective consultant continues with principles 4 and 5.
- 18:12 Fully participate in traditions. Jethro participated in the traditions that were naturally occurring. It is especially helpful when the consultant can observe and participate in meaningful activities planned during the visit. This builds relationship and allows for points of future reference.
- 18:13-16 Observe the context first hand. Jethro was able to observe the organizational situation Moses was in first hand. He saw the dynamics of how many people waited in line to see Moses and certainly many never got to talk to him. During this time of observation, Jethro was able to formulate his response based on actual happenings, not just what he was told.
Anyone can serve another by offering a “fresh perspective.” We all see through different lenses. The consultant has honed his or her skill to assess and evaluate a problem situation. Gaining a true understanding through observation and dialogue is critical.
As was discussed in the blog on systems thinking, ones initial solution to a problem is rarely the best. Deeper reflection reveals interconnected parts that impact the problem. The art of dialogue enables the consultant to suspend opinions and solutions in order to discern organizational culture values and habits that could impact the way forward. A great book to increase your art of dialogue is On Dialogue by David Bohm.
How skilled are you at observation? If you have not yet read the classic story of Professor Agassiz and the Fish you should educate yourself to enhance your observation skill: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/11/16/agassiz-and-the-fish/
Lyle Schaller, respected Christian author and practitioner, notes “the most serious shortage in our society is for skilled transformational leaders who possess the capability to initiate planned change from within an organization” (The Interventionist p.11). He believes that the core essentials of an effective interventionist are the ability to ask the right questions.
The consultant must be sensitive to the distinctive culture and be prepared to customize a strategy for each unique situation. The consultant wants to diagnose a situation well through observation and dialogue so the solution that is offered has a transformational effect. Even the highly intuitive person will see far greater results when growing the skills of observation and dialogue. The end result is to see new habits formed that will rectify bad or less than helpful behavior. To put Jethro’s experience in more modern terms, watch the three minute video by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. ((http://charlesduhigg.com/) This helpful explanation of introducing positive change will be taken up in the next blog.
Next blog: The Consultation Process
Recently I have written about David as a Reflective Leader, Nehemiah as a Dynamic Change Agent and Joseph as an Empowering Organizer. The next biographical sketch will be about Jethro as an Effective Consultant. Without the input of Jethro, the path on which Moses and Israel were on was not good. All leaders can learn from his example.
Every context will benefit from having someone with an outside perspective assess what insiders overlook, neglect, or are blinded from seeing. Whether in the home or office, we tend to develop habits and ways of living that rarely get tested. Once begun, we continue on a path until we are forced to change or until we learn of a better way. The better way is what a consultant provides.
To be an effective consultant a person must have developed skills in discernment. He must have the best interests of the party being assisted. We find such a man in Jethro in Exodus 18. He was the father-in-law of Moses and a wise counselor who served a critical need at a critical time in the history of the nation of Israel. Several principles emerge from this encounter that will be discussed in future blogs.
Jethro, priest of Midian, served to advise Moses in how to care for the needs of several million people in an organized way. In Genesis 25:1-4 we learn that Midian was the son of Abraham’s union with Keturah. When Midian was sent away from Isaac (Genesis 25:6) with his other stepbrothers he was given gifts. Midian would have been somewhere between 25-35 years old when Abraham died and would certainly have known oral history of the patriarch and certain aspects of his faith in God.
Moses fled to the land of Midian (Exodus 2:15) and in God’s providence became associated with Jethro. Jethro understood and practiced patriarchal hospitality (2:19-20) and was sufficiently impressed with Moses to give one of his daughters to him in marriage (2:21). Over the years of living in Midian, Moses so respected his father-in-law that he felt the need to ask permission to leave before returning to Egypt (4:18).
When we come to Exodus 18 we learn that knowledge of the mighty acts of God performed in Egypt had spread as far as Midian since Jethro was aware of them. Moses gives his father-in-law a first-hand report and Jethro responds with new or renewed faith in YHWH. Next we encounter the biblical model of Jethro serving as a consultant to his son-in-law. Ten principles emerge from this passage on consulting and I will just mention the first three here.
- 18:5-7 The consultant comes with prior respect and credibility. Jethro had a relationship with Moses from which he was able to speak so Moses would listen. Relational authority is the strongest means for influencing another person to change, but few consultants have such a prior relationship. Credibility earned through documented experience can be equally strong.
- 18:8-9 Relationship building before business. Moses and Jethro took time to enjoy each other and catch up on matters first. This time for relationship building is essential to set the stage from which a flow of recommendations can occur. Investing time for positive impressions at the beginning of an encounter paves the way for smoother dialogue later (especially true in non-western cultures). A good consultant listens and observes.
- 18:10-11 Complement before advising. Jethro intentionally complemented Moses on the good that was happening. This only serves to strengthen a relationship.
How have you viewed engaging a consultant? Whether formal or informal, engaging with a discerning and experienced person who will tell you the truth can prove transformative.
Next Blog: Consulting & Organizational Culture