I don't want the story of Joseph to pass by without first mentioning how Joseph seems to be a model of leadership in the book of Genesis. Early in the Joseph story we are introduced to Joseph as a dreamer and through his dreaming he seems to lord over his siblings who are older. Because of their jealousy he is not murdered, but is instead sent away to Egypt. In prison he takes dreaming to another level as he becomes an interpreter of dreams and as a result of this gift he eventually ends up interpreting the dreams of a troubled Pharaoh. Pharaoh sees something in Joseph and promotes him to the food czar during the famine.
The text's underlying message is that God has caused all of these events to transpire, but God does not dictate Joseph's leadership style while he was the food czar during the great famine. What were Joseph's leadership traits? Although the text focuses almost exclusively on the drama ensuing between Joseph and his family, we learn that Joseph was an able worker, an organizer, someone who plan ahead for large segments of the population. He was a respected leader. He made promises and kept them. He calmed people and when they had problems he helped solve them in what seemed to be a calming way, especially during a time of great crisis.
Although Joseph was clearly distressed and highly emotional about his family matters, he did not show his inner anguish to the people around him. For as long as he could he kept his personal matters hidden under a layer of professionalism. When he needed to vent his feelings he retreated to a private spot to weep. This ability to separate his personal feelings from his professional life is also a sign of leadership. Later we also learn that despite being gravely wronged by his brothers, he forgave them. Being in a position of great power, Joseph had ample opportunity to heap revenge on his brothers, not only because of his belief in God, but also because of his forgiving nature, his brothers are embraced and forgiven.
The Joseph story is an important case study to examine a leader who works well under pressure and helps the population feel safe and secure during a period of crisis. He is up front and honest and his approach to his job seems ethical.
Over the past four years leadership in the government of the United States has been on the forefront of every type of media. Has the leadership been strong? Like Joseph's method of leadership, was the leadership capable and professional? Did the current president's leadership leave people feeling calm and cared for? Was his brand of leadership governed with empathy? Did our current leader show mercy and compassion? It is an understatement to say that there is little consensus on the leadership exhibited by our current president. Our country is torn in half by some people who feel that the current president's leadership has been exemplary and others who believe that the leadership exhibited is a tragic example of what leadership should never be.
The bottom line is that leadership has consequences. The people of Egypt and surrounding regions were fed because Pharaoh was a leader who thought ahead and appointed Joseph. Joseph handled an all encompassing administrative project that fed multitudes and helped to alleviate their stress and suffering, once again because of careful and constructive leadership. Being ahead of a crisis can lead to less suffering, planning effectively can lead to saving lives. Leading a country effectively takes planning, careful choices, surrounding yourself with good people, empathy, and an understanding of what your country stands for. Last, a good leader, a solid leader, tries not only to see the big picture but also has the ability to see the many parts that make up that picture. Through his/her actions, he/she honors those parts to the best of his/her ability. Leadership is lives; lives saved and lives lost and most of all, lives cherished.
As we transition to our next president in the middle of January, I hope that he will bring to the office the type of leadership that Joseph showed. Looking ahead, as we approach the story of our greatest leader, Moses, I hope that the future president will also be inspired to lead like Moses did, with humility. Our next president needs strong shoulders, an ocean of patience and the ability to know that it is a bumpy road to reach the Promised Land.
וְיוֹסֵ֗ף ה֚וּא הַשַּׁלִּ֣יט עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ ה֥וּא הַמַּשְׁבִּ֖יר לְכָל־עַ֣ם הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיָּבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֲחֵ֣י יוֹסֵ֔ף וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲווּ־ל֥וֹ אַפַּ֖יִם אָֽרְצָה׃
Now Joseph was the vizier of the land; it was he who dispensed rations to all the people of the land. (Genesis 42:6)