Leadership Lessons From Joseph
By Mike Duke – BSF Board Member
The founder of Walmart, Sam Walton, once said “If you want a successful business, your people must feel that you are working for them — not that they are working for you.”
When I was working as “Chief Greeter,” or CEO, at Walmart, I was inspired by this mindset of servant leadership. It gave me the ideal opportunity to reflect on biblical models of leadership and I often used relevant Scriptures to describe specific leadership characteristics, even within a diverse, global organization such as Walmart.
This year in the Genesis study, I had the opportunity to reflect on servant leadership through the story of Joseph. Although he was not a perfect leader, we can learn from the leadership qualities that Joseph displayed throughout his life, from the beginning of his story in Canaan to the throne room in Egypt.
9 Lessons we learn from Joseph
Decide what Defines You
We all know the story of Joseph and the beautiful coat his father gave him. But we can even learn from this basic story that beautiful clothing does not make a great leader, and Joseph understood that. He had a close relationship with God, and much more strength and depth of leadership beyond his beautiful coat. So how do those we lead characterize us? In studying Joseph’s life, we see every day as an opportunity to choose what makes us memorable.
Make Peace With Adversity
In Genesis 37, we find Joseph in a ditch, or cistern. A wise business investor, Warren Buffett, once said, “When you find yourself in a ditch, stop digging.” This advice can apply to business, life and relationships. When Joseph found himself the cistern, he trusted God even through great adversity. Joseph did not fight his circumstances, but discovered God’s peace in each of these difficult situations. He came to realize that God uses adversity for good.
Welcome God’s Presence
In Chapter 39, Joseph’s boss, Potiphar, saw something in Joseph that was very special. He saw that the Lord was with him. Biblical leadership always shows the presence of the Lord, and the leader has complete trust in God. Can others see Him in us?
Expect Temptation and Be Prepared
People in leadership roles will often be tempted. Positions of power, authority and financial oversight can become sources of temptation. As Joseph gained leadership roles, he also faced intense temptation. He was certainly tempted aggressively by Potiphar’s wife. But before he was tempted, Joseph made a commitment to honor and integrity. In the throes of temptation, Joseph stood firm. Great leaders decide integrity cannot be compromised, and they make that commitment even before they face temptation.
Look For Opportunities to Lead
Joseph was certainly treated unfairly and was even sent to prison due to no fault of his own. But the Lord stayed with him and even provided leadership opportunities while in prison. From Joseph, we can learn how to make the best of difficult circumstances and even look for leadership opportunities that might be available in unlikely places. Whether we are at home raising children or at work leading a team, God values servant leadership in all circumstances. Through His eternal perspective, the greatest leaders among us are the Godliest.
Give Credit to Those Who Contribute
When others wanted to give credit and praise to Joseph, he turned it around to give all praise and glory to God. When interpreting dreams, he was clear that God’s skills, not his own, were on display. Great leaders embody humility, and they will not accept personal glory and praise. They tirelessly credit success to others that contributed to the accomplishments.
Place Your Trust in God’s Plan
In Genesis 41, we get a good understanding of Joseph’s trust in God’s plan. Joseph expects seven years of prosperity to be followed by seven years of famine, so he prepares for the upcoming difficulties. Joseph trusted God, and as a result, he received great wisdom in how to deal with the prosperity and how to prepare for the future.
Don’t Be Afraid to Show Emotion
In the final chapters of Joseph’s life, we read a detailed account of how he interacted with his brothers and his father. Faced with the family members who betrayed him, Joseph displayed compassion, forgiveness and love. These chapters are often emotional, showing one of the greatest leaders in Egypt weeping.
Some leaders have the mistaken impression that they should not show emotion, but they are so wrong. Strong leaders show they care about others, and sometimes that can mean grief. Display of emotion is a good, sincere characteristic because it shows a caring, loving leader.
Serve in All Circumstances
In the final chapters of Genesis, Joseph showed he loved his father and brothers, and was able to forgive. But going beyond forgiveness, Joseph proved his servant heart when he blessed and provided for his family. Great leaders care about every single person they lead, just as the shepherd cares about every single sheep in the flock.
Leading Where God Calls
Though we may not be called to lead a nation like Joseph, God calls all of us to lead in some way. Whether in business, BSF leadership, our local church, our community or leading our family, He provides the framework for serving effectively wherever we are called.
As we close our study of Genesis, we remember Joseph as an example of a leader who selflessly served. But in preparing our minds for Matthew, we look forward to Jesus, not as an example, but as the fulfillment of a servant leader.
Through Joseph’s example, we find practical leadership application. But through Christ’s sacrifice, we discover the power to put these steps into practice.
BSF Board Member – Former WalMart Executive
Michael T. Duke has served on the BSF Board of Directors since 2014. Mike was an active class member for several years and his wife, Susan, has served as a Class Administrator for more than 20 years. Mike joined Walmart in 1995, and over his 19 years with the company led the logistics, distribution and administration divisions as well as Walmart U.S. In 2005, he was appointed to vice chairman with responsibility for Walmart International. Before joining Walmart, Mike had 23 years of experience in retailing with Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores. Mike is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and currently serves on the board of trustees of the Georgia Tech Foundation and Chick Fil A. He also serves as an operating executive for The Carlyle Group. Mike graduated from Georgia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. He was awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Georgia Tech and the University of Arkansas. He and his wife, Susan, have two daughters, a son and five grandchildren.