The Expatriate and Leadership

by Rachel Pieh Jones on June 1, 2015

Expatriates are often put into positions of leadership simply by nature of our physical presence or because of a certain number of years survived lived in a place. Sometimes it is because a person is a gifted leader (yes, that link is a shout-out to Marilyn Gardner), sometimes they are a reluctant leader, sometimes it happens organically, and sometimes it is an appointment.


We recently welcomed four new coworkers. I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership and turned to Moses for guidance. Here are a few of the principles I see from his life:

A miraculous encounter with God doesn’t make a person a good leader.

The leaders of the Israelites had a picnic with God. Seventy men, including Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu saw something ‘like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself’ under his feet. They ate and drank on the mountain in God’s stunning presence. Less than 40 days later, they led the Israelites into sin by forming a golden calf and bowing down to the idol made of their own jewels and by their own hands.

Being given authority to lead doesn’t mean a person is released from the responsibility of following.

Moses was chosen specifically and powerfully by God to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt. God worked miracles through Moses, through his staff, through his hands, through his words, miracles clearly designating Moses as the leader of the people. Yet Moses knew that these miracles and the authority to lead were not from himself. He demanded, with shocking boldness, that God’s presence go with him. While he led the Israelites, he was not exempt from following God’s ultimate leading.

Being a leader means stepping aside when another person has something valuable to offer.

Moses and his upraised staff, by the power of God, led the people across a dried path through the middle of the Red Sea. The Egyptians drowned. When the people reached the opposite shore and saw the work God had done on their behalf, Moses’ sister Miriam took up a tambourine and she led a dance of worship.

Being a leader means sometimes relinquishing authority, passing on knowledge, and trusting that others are also capable.

Moses’ father-in-law Jethro visited their camp and watched Moses address various disputes among the people. Hundreds of thousands of Israelites had come out of Egypt and Moses was clearly overwhelmed by the problems they carried with them. Jethro suggested Moses appoint men of character and honor to be leaders over groups of fifties, hundreds. Moses would teach them God’s laws and then trust them to enact justice accordingly.

Being a leader doesn’t mean a person doesn’t sin or face consequences.

Moses led the people out of Egypt and through their desert wanderings for decades. He was ‘the most humble man who ever lived’ and had a uniquely intimate relationship with God. Yet he was kept from entering the promised land because one day he had beat a rock instead of speaking to it, as God had commanded him. Water still gushed from the rock but God told Moses that because of his disobedience he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Moses climbed a mountain, God showed him the land, then Moses died and God buried him.

What have you learned about leadership in your life overseas?

*image via Flickr

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • Marilyn Gardner

    Excellent Rachel – just sent this off to Malcolm Webber of Health Leaders. He gleans the best on leadership from the web and this is one of the best! (also – my gosh, totally undeserved shout out but thank you.)

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Cool. And you’re welcome. 🙂

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    I love that you use the life of Moses here. I love Old Testament characters, especially Moses and Abraham. 🙂 So much to learn from Moses, both good and bad. Last month our pastor took us through that part where Moses demands God’s presence to go with them and then moved on to Moses being able to experience His glory, and our need to experience both God’s presence and His glory. It was such a good little series. By the way have you ever read any Ruth Haley Barton? I just started a book by her called “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership,” and she uses Moses as her main guide throughout the book. I just barely started, but I love it. Like I said, though, I really like the OT characters. 🙂 One quarter several years ago (in America), the Sunday school class I attended went through the life of Abraham. That was like pure bliss for me — 12 weeks totally devoted to one of my favorite guys. But I digress. . .

    I love all your points, including the need to step aside and to relinquish authority, but I felt an especial emotional ping from that last one. As a follower, I tend to look at leaders and idolize them — or at least look at them through rose-colored glasses. So I can be especially disappointed when they fail or when they fall. I always have to remember that every last one of us is human. I’m human, you’re human, all the leaders I look up to are human. We will make honest mistakes, and we will sin, and we will face consequences. Its a tough truth for me to swallow though.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      I haven’t read that one by her but some others. Will have to look it up. I’ve been reading through the OT lately and am struck by so many things, like these. As well as the violence. Yikes! And the quickness with which people forgot God. Also yikes! And a good reminder/conviction, too.

      • Elizabeth Trotter

        Yes — the violence. Eek! Disturbs me as an adult like it never did as a child.

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