Business Lessons from “Unlikely” Sources: Joseph

Whether you’ve read it in the Scriptures or you watched productions of the Andrew Lloyd Weber classic Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, many know the story of Joseph. The spiritual and moral significance of the account is clear, but what can we learn from Joseph’s experience that will help those running a business?

Joseph’s Story

Joseph rules in Egypt

The account is in the Bible book of Genesis, chapters 37, and 39-45. Here are the main features of the account: Joseph’s brothers, jealous over the fact their father Jacob favored Joseph and angry at the dreams Joseph related showing them in a subservient position to him, sold him into slavery. The slavers eventually sold him in Egypt to an influential man named Potiphar, the chief of Pharaoh’s bodyguards. Due to his industriousness and skill (all of which he attributed to his God, Jehovah), Potiphar advanced Joseph to the most important position in his household, that of a superintendent. However, Potiphar’s wife found Joseph attractive and repeatedly made advances, all of which Joseph rejected. One day, when Joseph was the only other male in the house, Potiphar’s wife insisted Joseph have relations with him. When he refused and ran off¸ she grabbed Joseph’s coat and used this to concoct the story that he tried to seduce her. When Potiphar heard this, he became enraged and had Joseph thrown into prison.

While in prison, Joseph continued faithful to his God. He adhered to the standards and principles he learned during youth. Although initially treated badly, his exemplary conduct won over the chief prison officer. Eventually the officer appointed Joseph to a position of trust, giving him authority over the other prisoners and allowing him to manage the daily affairs of the prison. He likely had a measure of authority even over some of the guards. It was in prison he received the ability to interpret dreams, relating the positive meaning of the dream of Pharaoh’s former cupbearer, and the disastrous meaning for the former chief baker in Pharaoh’s court. Eventually he interpreted a dream of Pharaoh and, because of his God-given insight coupled with his intelligence, diligence, and industriousness, Pharaoh appointed him second in the kingdom. This allowed him to help save the lives of his entire family, including his 10 half brothers who sold him into slavery decades earlier. You can read the account in your copy of the Bible and this entry in the online version of Insight on the Scriptures for more details.

What Do We Learn?

No doubt this review was faith strengthening. Yet we’re here to learn about things that can help us in business. So what lessons can we pull from Joseph’s experiences? Here are a few:

Don’t let your circumstances define you.
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, yet he never saw himself as being lowly or unworthy. Instead, he worked hard in whatever situation he found himself, and excelled. Whether in the service of Potiphar or while in prison, Joseph distinguished himself as trustworthy, industrious, and capable. Similarly, sometimes we find ourselves in less than desirable circumstances. We may suffer financial reversals, find ourselves cheated out of rightful income, or have a natural disaster wipe us out. Yet those things happen to us; they aren’t us. Keeping that in perspective is often the difference between giving up and digging in to fight on.
Whatever the circumstance, do your best. 
Joseph didn’t ask for slavery. He didn’t wish being removed from his family and the life he knew. He certainly didn’t want the false accusation of attempted rape leveled against him, nor desired his subsequent unceremonious delivery to the prison. He still made the most of each situation. Since he couldn’t immediately change his circumstances, he controlled the one thing he had complete control over. He did his best, day in and day out. Likewise, we should always give our best. We’re not always in the situation we want. It may feel as though life has a grudge against us. Yet, no matter our circumstances, no matter how many things happen which are beyond our control, we can always control what we do and the quality of our efforts. Like Joseph, doing so allows us to grow personally, and eventually those efforts reap rewards both short and long-term.

Always operate with integrity, letting principles and experience guide you.

When approached by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph refused. He knew it was wrong, and considered it a sin against God. No doubt, Potiphar’s wife was beautiful. Being married to a man with authority in Pharaoh’s court, she could buy quality garments and use the best makeup available. Interesting, at this time there was no Mosaic Law, hence no prohibition against adultery. So why did Joseph resist, considering the act a sin? No doubt, he remembered that God gave Eve to Adam and said the two became “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It’s also possible he remembered discussions held in his household concerning God’s dealings with his people and how patriarchs like Abraham and Isaac received divine protection against others violating their wives (Genesis 20:1-18; 26:7-11). Thus he built on his knowledge to make a wise choice. Even though he didn’t enjoy the short-term results of his actions, he gained long-term benefits. We also need to operate with integrity. In today’s changing landscape, we’re often confronted with choices that may bring short-term gain. Yet we know that they provide no long-term benefits because they require we violate core beliefs and values. Like Joseph, we must reject such a course. Additionally, advances in science and technology may present never-before-seen choices and opportunities. By using our past experiences and staying true to our values, we can make effective choices even in these areas.

It’s not all about you.
Joseph accomplished much in the service of Potiphar and while in prison. Yet he never took all the glory for himself. He recognized the hand of his Creator in all things. He was well liked, and likely was also liberal in giving praise to others. We also do well to recognize that our gifts and abilities are the result of others. You certainly recognize the hand of teachers, mentors, and the collaborative efforts of others in the development of your abilities. The things we learned which form the basis of our knowledge and experience are a result of others imparting their knowledge. Additionally, if you work along with others to accomplish tasks, then you definitely depend on their efforts. So give others due credit. You’ll endear yourself to others, and it helps keep you grounded.

The end result to Joseph proved a blessing to him, his family, and an entire nation. Although I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same experience, I certainly feel the lessons learned from Joseph’s example serve as a guide for all who want to conduct business with integrity, industriousness, and ingenuity. If we put into practice the four points above, we’ll be more successful in business and in life.


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