When Leadership is Deeply Personal – Part 6

By Mark D. Roberts

February 22, 2016

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at one another? I have heard,” he said, “that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him.

Genesis 42:1-4

Birds flying in a V-formationIn last week’s Life for Leaders devotions, we considered what happens when leadership is deeply personal, using the example of Joseph in Genesis 42. As you may recall, this chapter recounts the beginning of Joseph’s engagement with his brothers, the ones who had years before sold him into slavery. We saw how strong Joseph’s feelings were, how his feelings led him to make an unwise decision, and how, by taking time and considering the Lord, Joseph rejected his earlier decision in favor of a more reasonable and compassionate one. (You can find last week’s devotions here.)

Help me, Lord, to lead wisely and well. Help me also to lead in such a way that those who work for me are empowered and encouraged to develop and exercise their own leadership.

This week, I’d like to consider another example of leadership in Genesis 42. Now we’ll look at Joseph’s father, Jacob, and his leadership of his family. The context for this story is, of course, the famine that infested the Mediterranean world, and which was instrumental in Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt. The chapter begins with Jacob learning that grain was available in Egypt and acting on that knowledge by sending ten of his sons to Egypt to buy grain (42:2). Jacob acted decisively, even though he knew that the trip would be dangerous. For this reason he did not send his youngest son, Benjamin, along with the other brothers (42:4).

Sending his other sons into harm’s way must have made Jacob nervous. Thus, this would be another case of deeply personal leadership. Yet, what Jacob first said to his sons is unexpected and curious: “Why do you keep looking at one another?” (42:1). The Hebrew verb translated here as “looking at one another” could indicate that the brothers were standing around idly and indecisively. It could also suggest that they were fighting among themselves. Either way, what they did not do was size up the situation and take decisive action. Jacob’s question, “Why do you keep looking at one another?” conveys his displeasure with his sons’ lack of initiative.

Or course, it’s likely that Jacob was responsible, at least in part, for the very thing that frustrated him about his sons. As the patriarch of the family, he had authority over everyone and everything. The fact that ten of his grown sons went straightaway to Egypt when he told them to do so confirms the strength of Jacob’s authority (42:3). Yet, his strongly authoritative (or perhaps even authoritarian) style of leadership did not equip Jacob’s sons to exercise their own authority wisely. The sons were standing around, looking at each other, rather than going to Egypt for food because their father had not empowered them to make decisions and act upon them. They were waiting for orders from the boss.

The example of Jacob encourages me to look at my own leadership. I would like to be a leader who helps those who report to me grow in their own leadership. I would like to be a trainer, mentor, delegator, model, and encourager. Yet, I also have a perfectionistic streak in me that makes it hard to give key tasks away to others. This would be especially true if these tasks are things I care deeply about. Thus, it’s a challenge for me to be a visionary, decisive leader who is also an empowering, encouraging leader. But, rather than focusing on those who report to me and asking them, “Why do you keep looking at one another?” I’m going to take a good, long look at myself and my leadership. Perhaps you’ll want to do the same.


Are you an authoritative leader? Are you an empowering leader? How would those who work for you or with you describe your leadership?

Do you every find yourself wanting to ask those who report to you something like, “Why do you keep looking at one another?” If so, could it be that your way of leading has something to do with their inactivity?

How can one be a strong, decisive leader and also a leader who encourages and empowers those being led to be strong, decisive leaders in their own right?


Gracious God, thank you for the leadership example of Jacob. Thank you for his decisiveness in a difficult situation. Thank you also for letting us see Jacob clearly, flaws and all.

Lord, I expect that sometimes I’m just like Jacob. I fear that my way of leading can sometimes be disempowering and discouraging to those whom I lead. Forgive me for the times I have not stewarded well the people you have entrusted to my care. Help me to lead wisely and well. Help me also to lead in such a way that those who work for me are empowered and encouraged to develop and exercise their own leadership.

In all of this, may you receive the glory. 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,...

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