The old testament talks of an interesting tale of Jacob and his sons, one of them particularly noteworthy, who goes by the name Joseph. “Dreamer” is what he is referred to commonly, and he undoubtedly lived up to its name. He had a peculiar relationship with God in which God foretold Joseph’s future through dreams. Joseph wasn’t quite humble about his unique gift, either. He often rigged controversies by openly revealing them much to the indignation of his brothers, who grew jealous of him day by day. Not to mention Joseph’s father Jacob had a special admiration for him among his brothers, which only added more fuel to their enmity towards him.
Genesis 37:9 — Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
Matters reached a climax when Joseph revealed his most recent dream, which was cryptic but obvious enough for the brothers to call for a scheme to end the misery. The disputatious dream he had was about the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing to him which roughly translates to Jacob’s entire tribe bowing to Joseph. Raged, his brothers devised a plan to finish him off and waited for an opportune time. Time went on; one day, Jacob sent Joseph to the mountains to check on his brothers who were flocking sheep there. That was the moment when the 4P principle took a headstart in the life of Joseph the dreamer.
When the brothers noticed Joseph approaching from a far off, they knew that was their opportunity to avenge. They decided to slay him and devise a story that a wild animal attacked him. Luckily for Joseph, one of his brothers, Reuben, was against the proposal to kill but proposed throwing him alive into one of the pits. Everyone consented, and Joseph was tossed into the pit. There was a caravan of merchants en route to Egypt, and one of the other brothers suggested they could sell him as a slave to them. They quickly pulled him out of the pit and traded him to the merchants for 20 shekels of silver, which roughly converted to today’s value would be around $300.
If you travel back to ancient times when slavery was rampant, there were slave markets where people were chained and sold like animals. Each slave had a worth according to their age, physic, and other qualities. If you do the math, $300 in Biblical times should have been a fortune. Joseph was offered such a price because the merchants believed he was worth that much. It goes to explain how Joseph, even in the pit, excelled and was worth a fortune.
It teaches a precious lesson on how a person’s worth is not based on the place and position, instead, on what value they exhibit irrespective of where they are. It also proves that a higher position does not always equate to greater quality. I have run into some ridiculously incompatible people at high positions, making a mockery of their responsibility and also incredibly talented individuals operating at a very insignificant place. It’s an unfair world, needless to say.
“A higher position does not always equate to greater quality”
Joseph is a reflection of a true leader. He excelled even in a pit.
2. Potiphar’s house
The merchants who purchased Joseph sold him possibly at a higher value to one of Pharaoh’s officials called Potiphar. The Bible says in Genesis 39:2 that Joseph prospered in the house of Potiphar and was successful in everything he did. Seeing this, Potiphar positioned Joseph as the chief of all his possessions. Again, Joseph’s worth was shining brighter than ever that he began spreading his value even as a slave in a foreign land. He came in as a slave but rose to oversee the entire household because of his excellence. Considering how luxurious the Pharaoh’s officials were back then and Joseph’s young age, he had a fairly complex responsibility to handle. He seemed to have taken on that effortlessly.
Genesis 39:2–4 — 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did,4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.
I am always marveled at go-getters. They are the ones who never whine about circumstances or hurdles but incessantly find a way to overcome and get things done. Joseph outshined in this. He needed a platform to perform and that’s all he needed. It did not matter if that was pit or slavery. ‘Performance’ was his target, and he always delivered it. Leaders need to hone this indispensable skill of getting things done. As the old saying goes, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough “ought” to get going’. The leader cannot exclude this.
Everything was unfolding so wonderfully in Joseph’s life. But certain things in life are inevitable, like “obstacles”. For Joseph, it came in the form of Potiphar’s wife who had an eye on him and invited him to bed. Joseph denied the offer, and in Genesis 39:8, he goes on to explain why he cannot betray his master’s trust. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife repeatedly prodded him, but he never budged.
Genesis 39:8–9 — 8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
Another distinguished mark of a seasoned leader is ‘Integrity’. Integrity is defined as one’s dedication to hold on to principles even when nobody’s watching. Taking into account Joseph’s age he could have worked out a successful affair without any relationship obligations with his master’s wife and in a way not jeopardize his footing in Potiphar’s house. He could have enjoyed pleasure and position by compromising his conscience. But his integrity reigned supreme, and his own words illustrate how much of a committed and honest employee he was to his master.
As with every honest endeavor, this too culminated in bringing him its share of troubles. In a botched attempt to lay him on bed, Potiphar’s wife cooked up a story accusing Joseph of attempting to rape her. Potiphar was enraged and threw Joseph in prison. Suddenly prison was his new home.
Prison was no different for Joseph. It was just another platform for him to perform. The Bible says he found favor in the eyes of the prison warden, and he assigned him in charge of everything that was happening there. I am perplexed to see how someone can continue to emit grace irrespective of the place and situation.
Genesis 39:21- But while Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.
Another impeccable trait of Joseph was his adaptability. From the comfort of his father’s home to a lowly pit, to the luxury of Potiphar’s house, and then to the confines of the darkest unpleasant prisons — Joseph adapted himself to excel. I once asked my middle-aged boss why he wouldn’t dye his greyed hair black, and his response was transformational. He told me that he would not prefer to make the effort to artificially concoct his appearance instead remain natural as he was so that he stayed the same at all times. There wouldn’t be a rich or poor himself. That was an invaluable lesson for me — stay who you are, not what others want you to be. To live like this, you need to have the heart to adapt to any circumstance.
“You drive the circumstance and not the other way around”
Joseph’s excellence couldn’t be contained even within the prison walls. He resharpened his dreamer skills and was a popular dream interpreter within the prison. Imagine what a bunch of men locked up underground would spend everyday on — eat, sleep, and talk. He took advantage of the situation and gave their dreams some meaning.
One of his beneficiaries, a cupbearer to the king, for whom he interpreted a dream, vowed to free Joseph once he was freed from the prison. When he was later released, he forgot to take up the case of Joseph as he promised to. But Joseph continued to excel and was waiting for an opportunity for his excellence to be recognized outside the prison walls.
4. Prime minister
Sometime later, the Pharaoh had two dreams that gave him a few sleepless nights. One was about seven healthy cows devoured by ugly weak cows, and the other was about seven healthy wheat grains being swallowed by seven weak wheat heads on the same stalk. He knew there had to be some significance about the number ‘7’ and wanted his wise men to interpret it for him. But none of them couldn’t, which further raged the Pharaoh.
Genesis 41:8- In the morning, his (Pharaoh’s) mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.
At that point, the kingdom was troubled and diligently looking for someone to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream. The cupbearer remembered Joseph and informed the Pharaoh. Joseph was brought to the palace, and when he was briefed about Pharaoh’s dream, he knew what it implied. The number ‘7’ signifying the years and the healthy cows and wheat grain heads implying prosperity, and weak cows and grain heads indicating a forthcoming famine.
Pharaoh saw a great leader in Joseph. At that moment, he knew Joseph would be the best one to lead his kingdom both during the abundance and famine. Within a day, Joseph rose from a convict to a counsel, a prisoner to a prime minister. It is impressive what Joseph delivered in the next seven years — a surplus. There was so much grain that they stopped keeping account of it. He had prepared the entire kingdom for the impending famine. During the days of drought, there was sufficient food for his people. They even opened up their storehouses for others outside the kingdom due to the abundance.
Genesis 41:46–47-46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt.47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully.
There are a plethora of lessons to learn from Joseph’s life as the leader of Egypt.
1. Meticulous planning
Joseph began to prepare for the upcoming calamity as soon as he took command. He chose fields in each city to store the grains. Each city was well-positioned to take on the famine whenever it strikes.
A leader keeps an eye on all scenarios and formulates a contingency plan for each of them. They have complete control of everything since they have considered all potential outcomes.
When people visited Pharaoh for food, he had one answer.
Genesis 41:55 — “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”
A good leader is dependable and is the go-to person in times of need. Their past achievements are a testament for everyone around to have faith in their leadership. A leader who is not trustworthy has a very jittery team. They are not confident and not focused since their leader is not there to champion them.
3. Serving others
When the famine became severe, people from around the world journeyed to Egypt to purchase grains. Joseph was a considerate leader who not only proved to be a savior for his folks but also to the people of the world.
“A leader steps up in time of need and extends a helping hand to others beyond his own team”
In my stint with a particular company, I was heading a team while a peer who led another team had to deliver a critical update over the weekend. We did not understand anything about their line of work, but as a team stepped up to support. We helped test their application and were able to provide inputs that helped them meet their deadlines. A good leader has the heart to help.
When Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to buy grains, Joseph was able to recognize them, while they did not. It would have been tough for Joseph to control the hatred since they were to be blamed for the hardships he had to go through. But Joseph resolved to forgive them and forget the past. He did play his dirty little tricks to give them a taste of their own medicine but ultimately showed that he loved them and wished the best for them.
It is a difficult thing to do, but leaders should embrace the virtue of forgiveness. Often there are scars created over time, and some are very difficult to forgive or forget. I have dealt with people who cannot forget the past enmity and continue to hold bitterness. A good leader forgives for the larger good of the team.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong” — Mahatma Gandhi
5. Repaying goodness
As a son and a brother, Joseph loved his family. He played a cheeky little game to bring his dad to Egypt. It subsequently succeeded with many twists and turns. Still, towards the end, it was a glorious family reunion to commemorate the resurrection of their family member whom they believed was long dead. It is always a noble human characteristic to repay goodness, especially to those who have helped us during our pivotal times. As a leader, it becomes even more significant to recognize the most deserving and honor them appropriately.
Genesis 45:15 – And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward, his brothers talked with him.
Joseph excelled both as an individual and a leader. He approached life as a challenge and went head-on, overcoming every impediment focussing on his final target — which is to excel. He established himself as one of the finest leaders in one of the highly regarded civilizations known to mankind. Joseph stands tall as a leader even in today’s context and leaders can draw plenty of inspiration from his life to be successful like him.