#103: How to Fail as a Problem Solver and as a Leader

It doesn’t take astute powers of observation to notice leaders who fail. They are all around us in business, government, and even in our churches.

Fail Leadership of Aaron Golden Calf

While the causes of leadership failure are many, there is perhaps no more surprising an example of leadership failure than that of Aaron, brother of Moses.

Let me set the scene for you. Moses and Joshua were up on Mt. Sinai for 40 days. During that time God was giving Moses incredibly detailed instructions for the construction of the tabernacle, the consecration of priests, and for the observance of the Sabbath (Exodus 24-31).

God appointed Aaron as the designated leader of the nation while Moses was up on the mountain. A month passed, and the people got impatient waiting for Moses to return. They approached Aaron about making foreign Gods out of gold to worship.

Mind you, the people still had the presence of God in the tower of clouds and the pillar of fire to remind them that He was in their presence. This is the same tower of clouds and the pillar of fire that had led the nation through the desert, but they wanted something man-made to worship.

So Aaron acquiesced to their demands, told the people to get their gold together, and made a golden calf. Then he told the people the golden calf brought them up out of Egypt (32:4)! Then to make matters worse, Aaron built an altar before the golden calf and proclaimed a day of feasting to the Lord. The next day he brought burnt and peace offerings. What was he thinking?!

Then, when Moses came down from the mountain, he found the people partying and the golden calf. Moses called Aaron out, and Aaron threw the people under the bus. Aaron told Moses “you know these people they are set on evil.” Then Aaron lied saying he just threw the gold into the fire and out popped the golden calf!

How Aaron Failed as a Leader

1) He Lacked Faith

Aaron was standing next to his brother through all the visits to Pharaoh and witnessed all the miracles as God fulfilled His promise to free the people. Then God led the people through the Red Sea, and He displayed His presence to the entire nation as a tower of clouds and a pillar of fire. Despite these clear signs that God was protecting them and right there with them Aaron’s lack of faith made him weak as a leader and allowed him to be swayed by pressure from the people.

What we should do. God is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1). When being pressured by outsiders, a Godly leader must stand strong, firm in their faith, and trust in God, that where God leads He will protect.

2) He Facilitated their Corruption

Aaron failed as a leader again when he made the golden calf and built the altar. Instead of leading, he is now complicit in their corruption.

What we should do. Leading people in the wrong direction is never a good idea. It’s bad enough when a leader succumbs to the pressure of a crowd, but to join in with a bad idea strips away all your authority as a leader!

3) He Worshiped an Idol

Aaron furthered his error by leading the people astray in their worship of the golden calf and declaring a feast. Moses had already given Aaron God’s instructions (Ch. 20) that prohibited making and worshiping idols, and yet he does it anyway.

What we should do. Violating policy, or worse, breaking the law, is no way for a Christian leader to lead. But to lead others into bad behavior compounds the error.

4) He Didn’t take Responsibility

When Moses comes down from the mountain, Aaron blamed the people, accusing them of being evil. He then lied and blamed the fire for creating the golden calves!

What we should do. Leaders never try to cover up errors or blame the people in their organizations when mistakes are made. Cover-ups, deceitfulness, and lying are not part of a good leader’s toolkit!


One of the challenges of being a leader and following God is that there will be times when we need to solve a particularly difficult problem. The leader was problem solver must remain strong and faithful to God’s direction. Aaron, as the designated leader, was confronted with a problem, but never took control of the situation, and in fact made the situation much worse!

When a leader makes a poor decision, they should stop, reconsider their course, and set a new direction for themselves and the organization.

Finally, a leader needs to take responsibility for their decisions! When mistakes are made, and they will be, leaders need to take responsibility for the error and take corrective action.

In Aaron’s case he may have thought he could keep the people happy by letting them have their idol, but ultimately this was the wrong path and he knew it!  He may have thought he could cover up and talk his way out of trouble with Moses, but God saw what he did and knew what was in his heart.

The consequence of his action was all those who he led into sinning against God were blotted out of God’s book. As leaders, we need to be especially mindful of our responsibility to set an example that leads people to Christ, not drives them away!

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you worked for a leader who failed in some respect? How did that affect the organization?

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Category: Skills | Problem Solving


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16 thoughts on “#103: How to Fail as a Problem Solver and as a Leader

  1. Thanks for the Podcast Ron. I felt like all of what you said applies to my responsibilities as father and husband. It’s not exactly your point, but definately applicable to being a leader in the house.

  2. Being a leader often means to lead the people towards a better and abundant state and community. Even upholding regulations and enforcing laws and standards that preserve the right of individuals and community/organization. This often means to adhere to what the community voice as inputs towards the community/organization of ways to improve and or dislikes. Aaron did a good job in listening to the community/organization and giving them what they wanted to satisfy their complaints. With Aaron’s method of taking action towards the complaint probably was not taking into consideration the foundation of the community it was built upon. The tradition it grew from and MUST adhere and take into consideration before executing a decision to satisfy the dissatisfaction of the community/organization. Aaron did not take into consideration the covenant relationship between God and Israel. The covenant relationship was conditional in the fact that God would guide them while Israel would obey and keep God’s commands.
    When we as individuals become leaders in a community. Especially leaders with Christian values let us never forget that God is the primary underlying foundation we should execute our decision and base our actions upon. As unconditional Jesus’ love maybe towards us, let us as Christ-followers not take the grace of God as cheap grace that does not require our sacrifice to live based on His law and love.

  3. I recently read an article from Forbes that was about adopting and practicing better leadership habits to become a better leader. Leadership is a trait that can be learned and with good practice along with thoughtful intent, one can attain and strengthen characteristics of a good leader. Giving glory to God as a leader will only make that person into a stronger leader. A leader who centers each decision with God in mind will act unselfishly and will make justifiable choices for the overall greater good. A good way to improve a person’s ability to lead is to learn from past leaders. This story of Moses’ brother is a helpful reminder that a leader must stay true to his beliefs, and that giving into the masses to “make them happy” is not a good strategy for a leader to make. We can learn both from poor leaders as well as historically great leaders. If someone really wants to be a great leader but feels that they lack certain “leadership traits,” they can improve their leading ability by learning from history, focusing on the Lord, and disciplining themselves to practice habits and strategies that will enable them to be the best leader they can be. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10)

  4. I believe every good leader needs to understand the power of God and to have faith with His path. There will be bumps along the way, hard times, and mistakes. But the good leaders will be the ones who turn towards God and own up to their mistakes. To be able to own up the their mistakes is the first step to being a strong leader. A leader is an example to all. So, if they are able to own up to their mistakes, and know God has a plan, the rest will follow. Aaron did not have a strong faith with God and owning his mistakes. He was not confident in his leadership either. This is important for a leader to understand because there must be confidence in themselves as well as in God.

  5. Leaders make mistakes no matter how great they are but I can’t stand someone who won’t own up to their mistakes. A person’s greatest triumph isn’t in never failing but how they respond to their short comings. One of the most important traits that anyone can look for in a leader is a leader that can own up to his/her mistakes and learn from them. Aaron, unfortunately, decided to throw the people of Israel under the bus to cover his mistakes but actually made himself look worse because he basically is saying he never had control over what happened in the first place. He lacked conviction whether it was for God or for the idol and that is a sign of a weak leader.

  6. In today’s culture everyone is encouraged to be a leader, but very few talk about the pressure of being a leader. This made me think of the other factors of leadership that aren’t always addressed. A leader should be prepared to take the responsibility of possible failures that can occur when dealing with teams. Leaders are always encouraged to go far and beyond achieving goals but there is always room for mistakes. I believe that a great leader knows how to gracefully deal with shortcomings. Christian leaders must have the ability to humbly accept their mistakes and refocus their strategy to align with their God given purpose.

  7. Leaders have the hard job of trying to lead their people in the right direction. The people sometimes try to push the leader in a certain direction even if this is the wrong direction. The leader has to discern between all of the options on the table. This decision making process has to also be a process of following God. The four reasons why Aaron failed as a leader is very important because every leader needs to learn from his mistakes. I believe that Aaron’s failure is because he couldn’t see far enough in the future to understand the implications of his choices.

  8. I think there are some great points touched in this article. The comparison to Aaron is very intriguing and relates will with the topic at hand, giving it a new perspective into things. However, I think there is one piece left out that would have “put the cherry on top.” That piece is a pause principle. Most leaders, including Aaron, did not take a second to pause and get the big picture. This is a common flaw that most leaders have that set them up for failure, Just as in the case with Aaron. Such a simple concept could change the way our leaders think and could redefine the success factor.

  9. I disagree with your opinion that Aaron failed as a leader. Instead, I believe that he showed strong leadership, even if he did not make the best decisions. While Moses was up in the mountain with God, the Israelites were getting restless and impatient. If not for Aaron’s quick thinking to appease the people, the Israelites may very well return to Egypt because they were already losing trust in God as their long journey to the Promised Land. Even though God’s first commandment was to have no other gods before him, Aaron made the Golden Calf and had a festival “to the Lord” (32:5), not to a Golden Calf god.

    • It is difficult for me resolve the conflict inherent in the idea of a strong leader who is a poor decision maker. I think the end result of Aaron’s leadership being that all the people who followed this course of action were blotted out of God’s book. That’s a heavy weight of responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the leader.

  10. There will always be times where you are left to decide on what is right and wrong. When faced with decisions we need to step back and look at what God wants us to do. Sometimes, like Aaron, we get caught up in the moment and go with what the people want, and not what is right. This is where you need to throw away your selfish wants and needs and make decisions that serve and pleases God. As sinners are all prone to make mistakes, but that shouldn’t be the reason to disobey God and lead others on the wrong path.

  11. I think anytime you are a leader whether it is big or small there is no doubt that you will find a crowd of supporters and non supporters. The important part is to focus your leadership off of what God desires for you because if you base your leadership off of the people around you then one, you are probably in leadership for the wrong reasons and two your leadership ethics is based off of your surroundings. Just as mentioned above, this could end very badly due to the crowd and the societal pressures around you. In Aarons case the pressure to build statues were extremely present and in if he based his leadership success by the desires of the people then he would have considered himself a very successful leader. However, it is because he and Moses based their leadership off of what God wanted for them that they can realize the failure to please God’s desires. I think a huge reason why leaders tend to have a hard time admitting they are wrong is because of the fact that we build such high pressures of our leaders. Yes, it is a huge responsbility but leaders are just like us in the sense that they are imperfect. We are all sinners, leaders are simply people willing to step up to the responsiblity of being responsible for more than themselves.

    • Malachi, I agree with your point about pressure that leaders experience – sometimes it from comes from inside, sometimes from the outside, but either way it certainly impacts leadership. The key to avoid having pressure take us in the wrong direction is to have a strong anchor in our Lord.

  12. ” I shall argue, no such individual would find the Golden Rule surprising in any way, because at its base lies the foundation in countless books, throughout recorded history, around the world, that is testimony to its universality.” – John Locke, 1690

    I agree with Locke. As leaders, if we remember the Golden Rule, we’ll have a reliable template to navigate the challenges of leadership. Doing so sets the right kind of example.