When You Lead Poorly, Your Followers Will Suffer

By Mark D. Roberts

September 28, 2015

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.’”

Genesis 12:11-13

Photograph of woman looking downcast
Genesis 12:10-20 tells the story of Abram and Sarai in Egpyt. As we saw in last Saturday’s devotion Abram’s fear of personal harm caused him to tell Sarai to hide the fact that she was his wife. The narrative implies that Sarai went along with this scheme as, indeed, would have been expected of a wife in that cultural context. She was to follow her husband’s leadership without question.

Indeed, things did go well for Abram because of Sarai his “sister.” In exchange for her, Pharaoh gave Abram “sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels” (12:16). Quite a haul! Abram made out well.

Except for the tiny fact that his wife was “taken into Pharaoh’s house” (12:15). In verse 19, Pharaoh explains that he took Sarai “for my wife” (12:19). Genesis does not say whether this marital relationship was consummated or not. But it’s not hard to imagine how traumatic this whole affair must have been for Sarai: forced to hide her marriage to Abram because of his fear; taken away by Egyptian officials working for the most powerful man in Egypt; brought against her will into Pharaoh’s house so as to marry Pharaoh, completely powerless over her own fate. As far as Sarai knew, she had lost family, dignity, freedom, and hope.

As the story plays out, we learn that God afflicted Pharaoh so that he ended up returning Sarai to Abram, who got to keep the bounty he had received from Pharaoh. It seems that Pharaoh sensed a kind of blessing and protection on Sarai. Even from his pagan perspective, he had more confidence in God’s power than Abram did.

On the basis of this story, we could reflect further about marriage, about the negative consequences when women are oppressed, and much more. But, today, I simply want to reflect on what happens to followers when leaders lead poorly. Followers generally bear the brunt of failed leadership, whether this means they lose their jobs, their dignity, or even their lives. Though Genesis 12 doesn’t focus on what happened to Sarai, her experience reminds us of the responsibility God has entrusted to us as leaders. It gives us a yearning to lead well, not just for ourselves or our organizations, but also for the well-being of those who follow us.


As you think about Sarai’s experience in this story, what do you think? What do you feel?

Have you ever borne the brunt of poor leadership? What did you learn from that experience?

As you think about your life as a leader, what does the story of Abram and Sarai say to you?


Gracious God, as I read this story, I’m struck by how horrible all of this must have been for Sarai. Though we don’t hear her voice, we can imagine how she must have thought and felt. Thank you, Lord, for intervening on her behalf, for undoing the wrong the Abram did to her.

In my work as a leader, may I be a blessing to those who follow me. Keep me from decisions and actions that hurt those you have entrusted to my care. Give me wisdom and courage to lead in such a way that they flourish in their lives, for the sake of your kingdom. Amen.

Photo Credit: Photo by Flachovatereza via CC0 Public Domain and pixabay.com.

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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