When Leadership Is Deeply Personal – Part 1

By Mark D. Roberts

February 15, 2016

[Joseph] turned away from them and wept; then he returned and spoke to them. And he picked out Simeon and had him bound before their eyes.

Genesis 42:24

We often think of leadership as a matter of thinking and doing. Leaders are visionaries, strategists, and tacticians who use their superior brainpower to influence others. Leaders are also those who know how to get things done. Yes, they think, but they don’t just sit around and cogitate all day. They bring thinking and doing together so that the organizations they lead will succeed in fulfilling their mission.

Thank you, Lord, for the richness of life that comes when we live in ways that are deeply personal, when we invest all that we are in something that really matters.

Black & white photo of people sitting at a window.Yet, leadership isn’t only about getting the job done well. It can also be deeply personal. I wouldn’t be surprised, in fact, if it is almost always deeply personal for those who are truly effective leaders. We lead, not just because we have a task to do or a people to lead, and not just to bring home a paycheck, but also because we care about the mission and the people entrusted to us. We lead, not just by using our minds, but also through the engagement of our hearts.

The heart dimension of leadership can be both good news and bad news. Our emotions are essential if we are going to be energetic leaders who work hard and inspire others to do the same. Our feelings can be strong allies in our effort to lead effectively and significantly. At the same time, our emotions can twist our leadership efforts, making them vengeful, self-absorbed, or unwise. They can cloud our ability to think clearly and lead effectively.

In Genesis 42, we see two examples of leadership that is deeply personal. I’m thinking of Joseph and Jacob, Joseph’s father. Both of these men were exercising leadership that was motivated and shaped by strong emotions, emotions that grew out of powerful, painful experiences.

We see this quite clearly in 42:24, for example. Let me set the context briefly. Joseph, as you recall, was promoted to the position of governor of Egypt, number 2 under Pharaoh. In this role, he had authority over the sale and distribution of grain during a seven-year famine. One day, ten of Joseph’s brothers appeared before him, bowing low as a sign of respect and submission (42:6). They did not recognize Joseph, though he recognized them (42:8). He did not throw open his arms and welcome them, however, but instead spoke to them harshly and tested them. As this was happening, the brothers talked with each other in Hebrew, believing that they were now paying the price for mistreating Joseph. They did not realize that Joseph understood what they were saying (42:23). When he heard them speak about having mistreated him, Joseph was deeply moved. “He turned away from them and wept” (42:24). This is the first of several times in this story when Joseph wept because of what was happening between him and his brothers. Understandably, this interaction was deeply personal for Joseph, touching the deep places of his heart, both his wounds and his loves.

Tomorrow, we will examine how Joseph’s emotions play into his leadership. For now, I’d like to pause so that we might reflect on how we are like Joseph, even if our situation is not nearly so extreme. The following questions will help you think about your own leadership and your emotions.


As you think about your leadership, whether at work, in your family, at church, or in the community, would you say it is deeply personal for you? Why or why not? If so, what makes it so deeply personal?

Can you think of a time recently when your emotions were strong as you were exercising your leadership? How did your feelings shape what you thought, said, and did?

In general, would you say emotions are helpful or unhelpful for a leader?


Gracious God, you have made us as whole people, people of mind, heart and body. Thank you for the richness of life that comes when we live in ways that are deeply personal, when we invest all that we are in something that really matters.

Thank you, also, for how Scripture gives us glimpses of whole human beings exercising leadership. Thank you for the examples of Joseph and Jacob in Genesis 42. As we read and reflect on this chapter, help us to learn more about who you have made us to be and how we can devote all that we are to the leadership responsibilities you entrust to us. Give us wisdom, Lord, to see ourselves as you see us so that we might grow to become more fully the people, the leaders you have created us to be. Amen.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn