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.
Tks so much for the summary of Joseph n wat he has done n his positive attitudes tat we can learn from n follow. Now I am going to read his story again in the Bible.
Thank you Mike. A well written reflection on Genesis. I really appreciate and learn from all of the events you have mentioned. I will continue to trust, believe and obey God. Blessings.
I am indeed I a sinner may receive forgiveness and ultimately see Jesus face to face in the heavenly glory.
Thank you for your timely blog, recapping the inspiring and challenging study of Joseph. I loved this… “When interpreting dreams, he was clear that God’s skills, not his own, were on display”. You have inspired me to shine for our soon coming King!
Thank you for the inspiration of servant leadership, an attribute which Jesus Christ showed us all when He chose to die for our sins on the cross and resurrect.
Thank you for this beautiful and truthful sharing which has encouraged & conforted my heart! Thank you Lord for His faithful servant who glories His holy name. Hallujah! Amen!
Thank you for sharing this beautiful analogy of Joseph’s leadership roles throughout his service to the Lord. Joseph inspires me to seek out more opportunities to be of service to the Lord. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article.
Such a wonderful insight from Joseph story. Joseph humility, servant leadership, showing emotions gave me lot of encouragement and god strengthen me through whole Genesis and waiting for Matthew study..
Thank you for words of encouragement!!!
God bless BSF!!!
All glory to god!!!
Thank you Mark Duke for this wonderful key tenants of what we learned this year. Often the story of Joseph is portrayed as a victim story in Sunday School lessons and Church
Yet its actually the story of development and building of a Godly Leader through adversities and by God’s grace – our privilege to be part of God’s plan as followers of Jesus.
Yes I have had some adversities this year and feel crushed or want to give up in despair at what I am seeing around me in the Church itself. But your note encourages me to keep going.
Thanks for the reminder that we need to Lead/serve where God calls us, even when its not comfortable.
Thanks Mike for these important observations based on Joseph’s life. He comes a long way from spoilt teenager to governor of Egypt. The Lord is with him and transforms him through some tough experiences. The example of servant leadership and giving the credit to our Lord is a good pattern to follow.
I have 2 daughters in leadership. Both have Godly hearts and they seek advice in leading others. I will forward this to them, it was wonderful and inspiring for me and they will appreciate your comments. Thank you !
Great summary of Joseph’s leadership! Thank you.
Great lessons from Joseph life.Those we love will betray us but our God never fails.May we always live for God.
This blog has touched my heart around learning more about servant leadership. It answers so many dilemmas I have faced in grappling with what strong, authentic and caring leadership should look like.
A great review of Joseph’s trust in and love of God, and of God working through him in leadership opportunities. Looking forward to the study of Matthew and learning about Jesus, our example and the God who empowers us through his Holy Spirit in us for the good works he has already planned for us.
Outstanding and very inspiring. Thank you. I have ALWAYS LOVED Joseph’s story – So many so many spiritual, leadership and relational lessons in his story. No surprise since it is God’s story of Joseph to teach us. To God’s GLORY!
For me the study of Genesis help me to understand the word of God more and find some instinct that are necessary when studying the word of God .Most importantly to trust in God in all situations
thanks for sharing such important lessons, Genesis study and specially Joseph is making such a great impact in our family.
looking with lots of expectations to Matthew.
Thank you for sharing! Joseph’s reliance and trust in God did give him peace in every situation he faced.
To place trust in God’s plan is very important and comforting for me. Thank you for the sharing. It comforts me especially in my household when I am sometimes deceived by the behaviour of the children. I think the most important thing is to remember that God is in control and loves me.
The entire book of Genesis was filled with so many lessons about faith and trust. The story of Joseph was the most amazing example of faithfulness, perseverance, and leadership. Your recap of Joseph’s life and challenges reminds us to look for lessons from God in our everyday trials and tribulations. Enjoyed the Blog.
Thank you for the great sharing ! The study of Genesis stretches & strengthens my spiritual muscles. God is good and his good purposes overrule evil intent. God is sovereign & he can turn curse into blessings, adversity into opportunity; bitterness into fruitfulness ! May all the glory be to God who deserves the greatest praise and honor !
Thank God for Mike for this blog that clarifies Joseph’s personality trait embedded God’s clear guidance. In between the lines in the Bible it was not so clear. I was pondering till now by reading Mike’s message. For us God’s servants we are thankful to be inspired and encouraged one another. Praise God for His mighty plan that we can be in it.
Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for your service to BSF and the building up of God’s church.
Thank you for the beautiful analysis of the life of Joseph. Maybe you can expound on the blessings of Deuteronomy 33. I am particularly interested in the horns. “…and his horns are like the horns of unicorns…”
This is very profound, very timely for me. Thank you for sharing.
This is very proud, very timely for me. Thank you for sharing.
Meant this is very profound not proud
Great summary of Joseph’s life as a leader and how a leader should be in our day to day life. Thank you Mike for your insights. Also pointing out the greatest servant leader Jesus, oh that we should live like Him every single day!
Oh thank you for showing me more how I can serve Jesus. God bless you. I am so thankful for BSF. Linda
I truly enjoyed your blog. It meant a lot more because I worked at Wal- Mart Distrubution Center from 1988 -2017, and I remember you when you were CEO.
So encouraging to hear about someone that has served so well in his life. What a boost to hear that these days where businesses are closed, where do people grow in business now? Grateful for the up[lift.
Thank you for this encouraging message. I would like to share it with my family.
As a director of a pregnancy center, I found this to be so very helpful and a great reminder of God’s continual leading of me through challenging times. Thank you Mr. Duke for sharing what you, yourself have demonstrated before others. I have been a part of BSF for many years and love to see how God changes us (me) through the study of His word. He is a good, good father who is mighty to save!
This is so helpful, thank you for sharing.
Yea, for a GT graduate!
Thanks for the great commentary on Joseph, one of my favorite OT characters.