Leadership in the Bible

Leadership in the Bible

A Practical Guide for Today

by Paul Ohana and David Arnow

The Authors

Leadership in the Bible

A Unique Way of Thinking

Paul Ohana and David Arnow will help you make wiser decisions at work and at home. Based on current thinking and research from the fields of management and psychology, Leadership in the Bible is the product of a journey taken through the Bible. The authors merge their two perspectives to create a unique way of thinking about familiar ancient stories and how they relate to the difficult questions you encounter in life today.

Have a Look

Leadership in The Bible

Start Reading

Table of Contents

Part One: Earliest Times


1. Getting Off to a Good Start

2. Faulty Communication

3. Exceeding Expectations

4. When at First You Don’t Succeed …

5. Reaching Too High

 Part Two: Abraham: Visionary Leadership


6. Leading Change

7. Social Responsibility

8. Successful Negotiation

9. Building Trust

10. Hope Wins

11. Contracting

12. Executive Search

13. A Model of Success

14. A Visionary Leader

Part Three: Joseph: Strategic Leadership


15. Shortsighted Decision Making

16. The Cost of Favoritism

17. A Strategic Leader

18. Reconciliation

19. E Pluribus Unum

 Part Four: Moses: Mission-Driven Leadership


 20. Women as Leaders

21. Benefits of Delegation

22. Stubbornness versus Perseverance

23. Overcoming the Impossible

24. The Fruits of Listening

25. Extraordinary Results from Ordinary People

26. Living Your Core Values

27. Leadership Vacuums

28. “Better Together”

29. The Rumor Mill

3o. Intelligence Gathering

31. Facing Crisis

32. Expressing Gratitude

33. Preparing the Next Generation

34. Accepting the Limits

 Part Five: Parting Wisdom


35. Caring for the Earth

36. “What’s in a Name?”

37. Time

38. Rituals and Life

39. Empathy

40. Empowering People



 Select Bibliography


 Biographical Information


In this age of unprecedented change we yearn for enduring wisdom to help us succeed in this topsy-turvy world. We seek inspiring role models, a sense of purpose, and connection to a deep source of meaning in life. We search for reliable sources of guidance as we navigate a daily array of daunting, seemingly impossible situations. Leadership in the Bible will help you make wiser decisions at work and at home.

Based on current thinking and research from the fields of management and psychology, Leadership in the Bible provides guidance about the most effective ways of responding to forty challenging situations we encounter every day. We ground this guidance in the wisdom of three key figures in Hebrew Scripture—Abraham, Joseph, and Moses—we explore how they coped with similar challenges, and we provide recommendations about how to respond to these situations at work or at home. Each chapter ends with an essential lesson, a lesson that was true thousands of years ago and remains so today.

Leadership in the Bible is the product of a journey taken through the Bible by a management consultant and a psychologist. Bringing these two perspectives together to look at the Bible creates a unique way to think about familiar ancient stories and how they relate to the difficult questions we encounter in life today:


What’s the right way launch a really important project successfully?

How can you prevent harmful miscommunication?

What can you do to ensure the loyalty of your customers?

How can you lead change without being its slave?

How do you avoid overreaching ambition and still get great results?

What’s the best way to prepare your number two to take more responsibilities?

How can you transform your busy time into a happy life?

How can you achieve extraordinary results from ordinary people?

What’s essential for managing a crisis and, more important, preventing one?

How can you succeed while sticking to your core values?


You can appreciate Leadership in the Bible with no familiarity with the Bible itself. We begin each chapter with a short passage from the Bible and provide a brief but sufficient introduction to each story. Readers who know a great deal about the Bible will find the approach refreshing. Questioning rather than dogmatic, we don’t pretend to answer every question we raise. Still, we feel that our perspective shines a different light on the relevance of the Bible for the situations we all face in life and leadership today.


A famous advertisement used to say, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Jewish Rye.” You don’t have to be Jewish to read Leadership in the Bible, and you don’t have to be religious either. In many of our chapters, we talk about God doing this or God doing that. It’s hard to avoid God if you’re discussing stories from the Bible. The lessons that we draw from these stories make no presumptions about what you do or don’t believe about God or about the origin of the Bible.


If you’re interested in the issues that we explore, you’ll enjoy Leadership in the Bible regardless of what you believe about religion, God, and the Bible.


For example, take our first chapter. It discusses the creation of the world. According to Genesis, Creation doesn’t happen all at once. It unfolds over six days. The lesson we draw from that is about the importance of planning a project in an orderly way and of not rushing to finish everything all at once. That’s a smart way to go about things whether you believe God created the world in six days or you believe in the big bang and evolution. It’s a smart way to begin a project whether you believe that God dictated the story to Moses word by word, or whether you believe that different writers composed different versions of the stories that were eventually stitched together by redactors in ancient times.


Is Leadership in the Bible for You?


If you’re curious about whether such an ancient text can shed light on everyday situations in your life, the answer is definitely, “Yes!”


As you thumb through Leadership in the Bible, you’ll find that we often draw parallels between stories in the Bible and situations that come up in the business world. For example, we look at the Israelites accepting the law at Mount Sinai and compare it to the moment when employees truly accept a company’s core values. And we talk about how much easier it is to pay lip service to those core principles than to live by them.


Even though purposely you’ll see lots of examples from the business world, Leadership in the Bible is as much about managing your life as managing a business.


When we talk about leadership, we’re taking up issues that relate to anyone in a position of responsibility. Wherever there’s responsibility, questions of leadership come up. You may have responsibility for a corporation, a department, many employees, a child or a family, a committee in a nonprofit organization, or your role in a relationship with your partner. And the truth is that you are responsible for yourself. Self-leadership is an established field. So the area for leadership is broad.


How Is Leadership in the Bible Organized?


Leadership in the Bible contains five parts encompassing forty chapters. Each chapter begins with a passage from the Bible that lays out the story. The first part explores stories from the beginning of the Bible dealing with the earliest of times. The middle three parts focus on stories about Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. The last part addresses a number of additional important issues the Bible raises.


The parts on Abraham, Joseph, and Moses relate to three kinds of leadership that these figures illustrate. Classifications of leadership styles have flourished recently in the managerial literature, and the one we present could be useful for anyone in a position of leadership who wants to ascertain if he or she has the right style for the situation.


Think of Abraham as a successful patriarch and as an entrepreneur with an enormous drive. Abraham is directed by his vision. He is autonomous, change oriented, permanently on the go, and able to adapt to evolving situations. Abraham is a visionary leader.


Joseph could be a graduate of Harvard Business School or CalTech—probably both! He is well organized. He creates long-range plans and implements them. He relies on careful forecasting but adapts his plans and his duties accordingly as the situation unfolds. He takes pleasure in the doing! Joseph embodies the strategic leader.


When you consider Moses, think about him as a very modest man. He underestimates his skills and hesitates to take great responsibility. He’s so reluctant that God essentially says, “Stop arguing with Me. This is an order. This is your mission: bring the Israelites out of Egypt, teach them my ways, and bring them to the Promised Land.” He’s devoted to his boss, God, who handed him the mission, and he won’t rest until he accomplishes it. In Moses we see the mission-driven leader.


Leadership in the Bible generally follows the chronology of the Bible from Creation in the beginning of Genesis to Moses’s parting words to the Israelites near the end of Deuteronomy. For that reason, you might want to read each chapter in the order in which it appears. If you have a special interest in Abraham, Joseph, or Moses or in a particular issue we discuss, you might want to go directly to the relevant section of Leadership in the Bible.


How Do We Relate to the Bible?


The Bible means a great deal to us. We approach it as modern thinkers who share a passion for learning what we can from our ancient sources, and we’re not committed to a literal reading of the Bible. This means that sometimes we look at particular actions of biblical heroes and we find illustrations of things to avoid. Take Moses and the incident of the golden calf. When Moses left the Israelites for forty days to receive the law from God, the only issues that he imagined would come up were judicial matters. Moses didn’t properly evaluate the challenges that would arise in his absence and therefore didn’t leave the right people in charge.


We focus on the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—known as the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, or in Hebrew as the Torah. These are the first five books of Hebrew Scripture, shared by both Judaism and Christianity. We’ve selected forty stories to illustrate a range of issues that are particularly relevant to life today.


Far from considering the Bible to be a dusty old text that sits on a shelf, we find it to be a living guide with which we find ourselves in a congenial, ongoing, very fruitful dialogue. In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.’’ We think he would also have agreed with us: “There is always something new to discover in the Bible.”


Traditional commentators and scholars have spent their lives analyzing Bible stories in the greatest detail. Every word has become the object of study. Our goal is to look at these ancient stories with a different perspective, the perspective of consultants who are involved every day in challenging situations. More often than not, the dilemmas that arise in our lives today are remarkably similar to those with which our forebears struggled in ancient times. As they say, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”



Why have we decided to look for lessons from the Bible? First, we are fascinated by the Bible and the ability of its tales to have taught and inspired people for millennia. Second, the Bible contains a great deal of wisdom, a commodity that is greatly needed in this ever-changing world of ours.


Some lament this state of affairs as a sorry indictment of human progress. We see it differently. The fact that we can learn useful lessons from ancient sources highlights the constancy of the human condition. You can learn something from the Bible about effective communication because communication was a problem back then and still is. You can learn something from the Bible about negotiation because negotiation is a skill that mattered back then and still does. You can learn something from the Bible about the downsides of stubbornness because stubbornness created lots of unhappiness a long time ago and still does today.


So in a world where the rate of change accelerates to the point of dizziness, it’s good to know that some things do tend to remain the same. And that’s why ancient texts provide not only wisdom, but a measure of comfort as well.


A word about biblical translations: There are many excellent translations of the Bible. Unless otherwise noted, we’ve used the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, second edition (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999).


How Did Leadership in the Bible Develop?

A longtime management consultant, Paul had become fascinated by parallels he found between stories in the Bible and issues that came up with his clients. For instance, Abraham’s bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah was a perfect illustration of negotiation. Moses’s grooming of Joshua taught many of the principles of succession planning. In 2010, Paul had the opportunity to give a lecture in a Paris synagogue on the anniversary of his father’s death. He spoke on the relationship between the Bible and management. The congregation loved the presentation.

The idea of Leadership in the Bible began to take shape. A short list of topics grew longer, though it still nowhere near covered all the material in the Bible.

Paul and David met socially and discovered a raft of common interests. A psychologist with a deep interest in theology, the Bible, and other Jewish texts, David had a background that complemented Paul’s.

As work progressed, it became clear that adding the perspectives of a management consultant and of a psychologist produced a fresh reading of these ancient and familiar stories. The events of three thousand years ago in the desert of Sinai suddenly looked similar to situations confronting us today. Ancient wisdom proved timely once again.


Working from Paris and New York with occasional visits has been a unique experience. The most challenging and rewarding aspect of the project has been the process of “getting to yes.”


You’ve heard the saying “Two Jews, three opinions!” That is exactly what happened. On many topics, we had two original points of view and needed to work to blend them or choose the one that worked best for Leadership in the Bible. In traditional settings, Jewish texts are studied in a particular way. Two study partners approach the text together. That study partnership is called a hevruta, a Hebrew word that means friend or comrade. In this day and age, it makes no difference if one member of the hevruta lives in New York and the other in Paris. It’s all about encouraging creativity, bringing different perspectives to the surface, and learning that two heads are better than one. Vive la différence!


One last word: We enjoyed our journey through the Bible and even felt a little sad when we finished it. We hope that when you read Leadership in the Bible, you’ll feel the same way.


Getting Off to a Good Start: The Creation

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day … And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day … On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing …

Genesis 1:1–5, 31; and 2:2[i]

The opening words of the Bible, “In the beginning,” evoke wonder and expectation, as they set the stage for action, for the beginning of all beginnings. Let’s see what we can learn from this story about how to launch a project—a big one at work or something more modest at home.

God’s approach to creation is to begin by doing. Even in our planning-driven world, that style hasn’t gone out of fashion. Apple, Google, Mattel, Disney, and Harley-Davidson are just a few of the great companies that began when someone started doing something in a garage. Sometimes you just want something and it doesn’t exist. So you decide to create it. Ferdinand Porsche said, “In the beginning I looked around and, not finding the automobile of my dreams, decided to build it myself.”[ii]

Most guides on starting a project focus on a planning process that precedes putting the shovel in the ground. For God, creation was “shovel ready.” It may be best to start after the planning has been completed, or you may begin while you are still planning. God’s deliberate action reminds you that at some point you have to take the plunge. God creates the cosmos by uttering words. But words are not the goal. God aims for a tangible product. There’s a time when you have to stop talking about a project and take the first step.

The Bible describes God’s Creation of the cosmos in six days. The Bible could have recounted the entire work of Creation as a single instantaneous act. Wouldn’t that have been more impressive than a project that took an entire week? Rather than simply overwhelming us with God’s power, maybe the Bible was interested in teaching a different lesson.[iii] Human beings, says Genesis (1:27), are “created in the image of God.” You too are a creator, a builder of worlds. You too should approach your work in an orderly way. Instead of trying to complete your project in an instant, slow down; appreciate the wisdom of taking one step at a time. Ultimately the quality of your project should trump speedy completion.

There’s no end to what can go wrong when you try to rush through a big project. In 1999, Hershey, the chocolate company, hurried through the process of upgrading its computer systems. Although the details are complex, in essence, to save time, the company opted for switching on the entire new system at once rather than taking the time to phase in and test the new system module by module. The breakdown cost Hershey $150 million in lost sales. The fiasco has become something of a textbook case illustrating the dangers of trying to do too much in too little time.

The overriding problem appears clear: Hershey was simply trying to do too much at once. In cosmology, the Big Bang theory tells us the universe sprang into being in an instant, wiping out everything that went before. In Hershey’s case, it was the old logistics systems that had allowed it to do business for years that were wiped out in a flash.[iv]
Analysis of the Hershey case also suggested that leadership had been faulty. No one at the top level of the company took responsibility for overseeing the project. In the Creation story, God conceivably could have handed the work of Creation over to a band of angels, figures who appear often in the Bible. God functions as a hands-on leader, if there ever was one.

The story of Creation demonstrates that sound project management requires splitting a big project into its components, each with its own beginning, with verification at each step that the work has been done properly. Sophisticated project management software helps you to split a big project into its various components, while quarterly reports will keep your management and your shareholders aware of what’s going on.

“And God saw that this was good.” God says something along these lines seven times as Creation unfolds. Just as God does not create the world in one single gesture, God does not wait for the entire world to be completed to observe its quality. Instead, God notes how well the project is coming along as each phase reaches completion. God celebrates success early and often.

Many leaders forget the power of success and therefore don’t adequately celebrate it. One expert in leadership put it this way:

Success … is a moment in time that holds the knowledge and inspiration for leaders to move themselves and the organization to the next level … Success knows the history of the journey, its mistakes, lessons, and accomplishments. Success is a mirror from which one can see the future possibilities with greater clarity. It boosts our confidence, fosters new levels of trust, helps us make sound decisions and can spread a message like wildfire in the hands of a determined leader.[v]

God gives recognition in a timely way as the project goes along, and doesn’t withhold it to the end. It brings to mind the concept of “quick wins.” An early taste of success helps lay the groundwork for your group’s ability to get through more difficult tasks down the road.

Research on quick wins is interesting. A study in the Harvard Business Review found that the performance of newly appointed leaders who put a quick win on the board was rated 20 percent higher than those who didn’t. But not all quick wins are equal. Quick wins that provide a team with a collective early success count for more than those that burnish the reputation of the leader alone.

The team must make real, direct contributions. Two simple litmus tests prove useful here: Can key players on the team see their fingerprints on the outcome? Would they cite their contributions with pride? If the answer to either question is no, the win is not collective.[vi]

The final lesson to learn from the Creation story is this: finish the project. God sticks with the project until it’s completed. Divine attention is presently focused on this project alone. If you spread yourself too thin, you’ll leave behind a pile of unfinished projects.

Dare to begin. Do so in an orderly, focused way, and celebrate success.


  1. Getting Off to a Good Start: The Creation

[i] For the first verse, we’ve used the 1917 version of the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of the Bible.

[ii] Quoted in Guy Kawasaki, The Art of The Start (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 12.

[iii] Scholars generally attribute the version of the creation story recounted here (Genesis 1–2:3) to what is known as the Priestly Source (P). As in the book of Leviticus, also attributed to P, we find a great concern with order and making careful distinctions, characteristics essential to properly carrying out the sacrificial rites with which priests were charged. See for example, Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible (New York: Harper and Row, 1989).

[iv] David F. Carr, “Sweet Victory,” Baseline, December 2002, Case 51, http://bryongaskin.net/education/MBA%20TRACK/CURRENT/MBA621/Assignments/Hersheys/HersheysSweetVictory.pdf.

[v] Debbe Kennedy, Achievement: Measuring Progress; Celebrating Success (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2000), 18.

[vi] Mark E. Van Buren and Todd Safferstone, “The Quick Wins Paradox,” Harvard Business Review, January 2009, http://hbr.org/2009/01/the-quick-wins-paradox/ar/1.

Choose a chapter

  • Table of Contents

    - Part One: Earliest Times Overview […]
  • Introduction

    - In this age of unprecedented […]
  • Getting Off to a Good Start: The Creation

    - In the beginning God created […]

Get your copy now! From Amazon, from Barnes and Noble

What People Are Saying

Huff Post Books Susan Cohn Rockefeller 11/03/15

Huff Post Books Susan Cohn Rockefeller 11/03/15

In a world where there is a vacuum of leadership and misunderstanding, it's refreshing to find new approaches that are useful in both our personal and professional lives. Enter Paul Ohana and David Arnow, whose book Leadership in the Bible: A Practical Guide for Today finds modern strategies in the lessons of an ancient text. Ohana, a management consultant, and Arnow, a clinical psychologist, use research from their respective fields to draw fresh and practical conclusions from many of the bible's most well-known stories. Using text from the Old Testament as a starting point, the authors address many challenges of business, such as: project launches, communication, crisis prevention and management, and the achievement of goals and results. Leadership principles play a role in all of our endeavors, and Leadership in the Bible is a worthwhile read for anyone looking to strengthen their skills or alter their approach. Ohana and Arnow find modern relevancy in age-old accounts, and their methods are accessible to everyone, no matter their religious affiliation or familiarity with the Bible. And, with plans to examine other religious texts such as the New Testament and the Quran through the same format, we can continue to harness the wisdom and power of what has come before, and transform our daily lives from ordinary to extraordinary.

Rabbi Jack Riemer

Rabbi Jack Riemer

"A management consultant and a psychologist look at the Bible, and they see things in it that most of us would never notice... Businessmen who have never studied the Bible seriously and students of the Bible who have never thought much about business will both learn much valuable information and will both gain new perspectives on their work from this book." —Reviewed in the South Florida Jewish Journal and Jewish News Service

Larry Zicklin

Larry Zicklin

"Kudos to Paul Ohana and David Arnow for their book about the Bible and its leadership lessons for business executives. Their insights and wisdom will benefit all of us in management who constantly struggle to properly exercise our obligations to our stakeholders."—Larry Zicklin, Clinical Professor at Stern School of Business at New York University and former Chairman of the Board, Neuberger Berman

Larraine Segil

Larraine Segil

"Paul Ohana and David Arnow have taken a completely unique look at leadership. The scholarly and appealing nature of this book is intriguing - and combines the talents of good researching, as well as compelling storytelling. I read it cover to cover - like a novel - which is pretty unique for a business and leadership book! A really good read." —Larraine Segil, author of Intelligent Business Alliances (Random House) and Belonging, a novel (Penguin Dutton Books)

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

"Arnow and Ohana have put the Hebrew Bible back in business. Through their insightful and creative readings, they distill a 'spiritual business model' for the 21st Century. Leadership in the Bible recasts the classic stories now as quick studies for anyone trying to earn a living while remaining religiously alive. This is a very wise text." —Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, the Emanu-El Scholar at Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco. He is the author of books on spirituality, Judaism and Kabbalah

Ruma Bose

Ruma Bose

“I saw firsthand how Mother Teresa found inspiration in the Bible, as she lead one of the greatest humanitarian organizations the world has ever seen. In their insightful book, Paul Ohana and David Arnow show how, like Mother Teresa, every leader can benefit from tried and tested biblical principles.” —Ruma Bose, Author Mother Teresa

Judith Hauptman

Judith Hauptman

"Who would have thought that management consultant and a psychologist/Bible scholar could read the Good Book together and emerge with so many new insights, interpretations, and business applications?! That is exactly what Ohana and Arnow have done. I was skeptical at the outset, but after reading the first episode about the leadership lessons to be learned from the creation of the world, a chapter ingeniously entitled "Getting Off to a Good Start," I could not put the book down. These two writers “marry" the fields of business know how and Bible scholarship. The result is an eminently readable, highly engaging volume that speaks to people of all faiths, in all walks of life. Not a chore to read but a privilege. It is so refreshingly different and smart" —Professor Judith Hauptman, Professor of Talmud, Jewish Theological Seminary

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

"The Bible is meant to be taken seriously—as sacred text that can speak to us today. Ohana and Arnow demonstrate how to do this. Familiar stories become the basis for analyzing effective decision making at home or work. Read this book to reconsider the meaning of the Bible, and to rethink your relationships, business strategies and approaches to management. A lively, engaging tour through the Bible. This was great to read! --Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is co-founder and executive director of Mechon Hadar

About the Authors

Paul Ohana

Paul Ohana

Paul Ohana has a multidisciplinary background in engineering, law, economics, management, and marketing acquired at ENSTelecommunications Paris, the Sorbonne, International Marketing Institute of the Harvard Graduate School of Business, and at the graduate School of the University of Pittsburgh. He has managed large companies and innovative start-ups in France, Morocco, Israel and the United States. Paul lives in Paris.




David ArnowDavid Arnow

David Arnow, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist an investor, and a writer with decades of leadership experience in the non-profit sector. He is a scholar of the festival of Passover and the Exodus and the author of many articles and two books on the subject, including Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities, 2nd Edition (2011), and My People’s Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries (co-edited with Lawrence A. Hoffman; 2008) and co-author of  How the Story of the Exodus Speaks to Jews, Christians, and Muslimswww.exodusconversations.com.                                                        David lives in New York.



contact us

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)


Your Message