Ministry Today – Serving and empowering church leaders

Lessons From Egypt

One of the Bible's best leadership models comes from an unlikely source.

The name Pharaoh often gets a bad rap because of the one Moses encountered in the book of Exodus. Yet another Pharaoh can be counted among the Bible's greatest leaders, as his wise choices led to the very survival of a nation. This was Joseph's contemporary, mentioned in Genesis 37-50.

Egypt in Joseph's time was the most powerful nation in the world. When Joseph first arrived, the nation was prospering under Pharaoh's leadership, with no end in sight. Typically we pay attention to the role Joseph played in interpreting Pharaoh's doubleheader dreams and advising the ruler on what Egypt needed to do to prepare for the imminent famine. Yet what follows this marks Pharaoh as a leader worthy of emulating.

Building More Than Pyramids

In Genesis 40:1-5, 20-23; 41:1-4, 33-57; 47:1-4, you'll find the following characteristics of Pharaoh that make obvious his remarkable leadership and administrative style.

1. Pharaoh made quick decisions when he found the right person. He knew he had found a "star" in Joseph, and he acted quickly to secure the foreigner's services and wisdom. Joseph was young and had a shady past, but he had wisdom. Good people are hard to find and sometimes harder to manage. When you find them, hire them!

2. Pharaoh partnered with his opposite. He didn't fill his staff with people like him but brought in some "opposites." Pharaoh hired a good operations man in Joseph to carry out the day-to-day plans of the kingdom. Partnering with opposites can be difficult, as they view life in contrast to your viewpoint. They can, however, see what you can't (and vice versa), thus strengthening the team through diversity and friendly dissent.

3. Pharaoh recognized the importance of talent and "special ability. " When Pharaoh met Joseph's brothers, he made an interesting comment: "If you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock" (Gen. 47:6, TNIV). He didn't give Joseph's brothers a job because they needed one or because they were Joseph's kin. Don't hire anyone because he needs a job or is related to someone on your staff. Hire because of his ability.

4. Pharaoh gave authority and established boundaries. He put Joseph in charge of operations to store food for the famine and then distribute food during it. Joseph's job description and expectations were unambiguous. Though Joseph's hiring was a quick one, his role and duties were clearly explained and well thought out.

5. Pharaoh used his power to empower the right people. All leaders have power. What distinguishes a good from a great or bad leader is how that power is used. Pharaoh used his authority to empower Joseph to do the job God had gifted him to do. Egypt's ruler used his power correctly to help his team get the job done. He listened to Joseph's strategy, approved it and then let Joseph do it with minimal input or interference.

Pharaoh was rewarded for his exceptional leadership skills. His country was saved from suffering and possible oblivion. Pharaoh secured a place in history as a good leader, in contrast to his counterpart who wielded heavy-handed, authoritarian control during the time of Moses.

What kind of leader do you want to be? Would you rather build a team full of Josephs or rule with an iron fist? Would you prefer to build for the future or erect monuments for yourself? Take some time to reflect on your own leadership style as it relates to Pharaoh's and see where you need to improve. Then set about building a more effective team so that you and your organization can be the fullest, most accurate expression of who it is that God intended for you to be.

John Stanko is president of PurposeQuest International, through which he has taught biblically based business and leadership principles in dozens of nations from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Contact John through his blog at


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