The Joshua Principle

Dateline: The Desert of Sinai, 1444 B.C. Three years have passed since the Jewish people left Egypt on their journey to the Promised Land. They have received the Ten Commandments and conducted the first census to determine the number of men fit for military service. Now it’s time to move.


Leaving their camp at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites march through an inhospitable wilderness, enduring great hardships as they journey to Canaan, the land where their dreams will come true. When the eager throng reaches the outskirts of Canaan, Moses selects 12 men to sneak across the Jordan River and check out the conditions in their future home.

The reviews are decidedly mixed. Canaan is indeed a land flowing with milk and honey, but it is also inhabited by giants and dotted with fortified cities. Taking possession of the Promised Land is not going to be a cakewalk.

Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, say (I’m paraphrasing here), “We’ve got a lock on this puppy. Let’s go for it.” The other spies think the obstacles are too formidable and they begin to stir up great fear in the hearts of the people. The masses rebel and threaten to stone Joshua and Caleb, so God decides to send the Israelites on a 40-year trek in the desert for an attitude adjustment. It is left to the next generation to conquer the Promised Land.

Fast-forward 40 years. Moses has died and Joshua has taken on the daunting task of guiding his people from the wastelands of uncertainty, frustration and despair to a new territory, rich with the promise of prosperity, peace and hope. Fighting off the urge to lay a big “I told you so” on the Israelites, Joshua leads them into Canaan, where they subdue the opposition and enjoyed the fruits of victory.

Perhaps you’re standing on the banks of your own Jordan River—the boundary between where your business has been and where you want to take it. Before you is the promise of new opportunities and greater profits. Behind you lies a challenging odyssey that may have left your troops a little weary and a bit unsure about your vision for the future. Maybe, like Joshua, you’re trying to convince your folks that those big bad obstacles to success can be conquered and that the walls surrounding new business opportunities can be breached. If so, then I believe you can learn a lesson from Joshua’s leadership style—let’s call it the Joshua Principle.

The Bible teaches that Joshua was a faithful lieutenant to Moses. He was a humble and self-controlled man, not given to the emotional outbursts that sometimes got his boss in trouble. Today’s effective leader should cultivate Joshua’s temperament. Demonstrate loyalty to those below you in the chain of command. Seek first to understand other people and their point of view without loosing your cool. Nowadays, you must be wise in the ways of the human psyche and demonstrate empathy for others.

“The rules for work are changing,” says Daniel Goleman in his book “Working with Emotional Intelligence.” “We’re being judged by a new yardstick: not just by how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also by how well we handle ourselves and each other.” Even when circumstances warrant high emotions, remember Aristotle’s observation: “Anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way—this is not easy.”

Joshua was a man of strong convictions. After assuming the leadership of Israel, he admonished everyone to stay true to their faith and unwavering in their devotion to the mission to which God had called them.

Does your business live by an unshakable set of guiding principles? This may be the time to revisit your mission statement with your employees. More important, are your personal values in the right place? In his book “Principle-centered Leadership” Stephen Covey wrote, “My experience tells me that people instinctively trust those whose personality is founded upon correct principles.” Character counts, especially when you expect people to follow you out of respect rather than fear.

I know what you were thinking when you started reading this post: What does the Exodus have to do with modern-day business owners? Human nature and the qualities of effective leadership haven’t changed much in the past 3500 years. The Joshua Principle might be the key to leading your legions to the Promised Land of business success.