#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 as 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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