[Joseph said to his brothers,] “Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison, in order that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else, as Pharaoh lives, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in prison for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they agreed to do so.
So far this week, we have been considering Joseph’s example of deeply personal leadership as seen in Genesis 42. (You can find the first devotions of this series here.) Yesterday, we saw that Joseph had the clarity of mind and courage to change a poor decision he had made when his emotions were running high. His example inspires us. But it also makes us ask: Why? Why did Joseph change his mind? What enabled him to reverse course, leaving a poor decision behind in order to pursue a better path?
Even and especially when we are feeling rushed, dear Lord, help us to find the time we need to think and pray about our leadership.
There are two ways of answering this question (at least). We’ll consider one today and the other tomorrow.
Perhaps the most obvious reason that Joseph was able to make a course correction is that he had the time to reflect on what he had done. In the heat of the moment, Joseph decided to imprison all of his brothers except for one until his favorite brother, Benjamin, was brought to Egypt. But Joseph did not act on this decision immediately, perhaps because he wanted all of his brothers to suffer a bit in prison. This delay gave Joseph three days in which to consider what he had decided. At the end of this time, he resolved to send all of his brothers home except for one, who would remain in prison as a kind of down payment to Benjamin’s visit.
What will help us to be wise leaders when our emotions are deeply engaged? Time. What will allow us to change course from previous decisions that were not the best? Time. When we’re emotionally overheated, it’s extremely difficult to lead from a point of reflection and wisdom. Psychological research demonstrates that when we are emotionally flooded, even our physiological responses compromise the clarity and compassion of our thinking and acting. If, as leaders, we make decisions in the heat of the moment, we need time to calm down and think more carefully. Better still, we might become self-aware enough to avoid making unilateral major decisions when we are emotionally flooded. We can learn to give ourselves the time to lead thoughtfully, wisely, and graciously.
Let me offer an example from my own work as the leader of the De Pree Center. Recently, I found myself needing to make a number of crucial decisions. My mental and emotional inbox was overly full, so I was trying to move quickly. I did slow down enough to consult a couple of key collaborators. But I forgot to include one colleague whose input I would have been glad to receive. In my haste, however, I left him out.
Now, this colleague was mature enough to let me know that my omission, while not a big deal for him, nevertheless “bummed him out.” When I first read this, I felt immediately defensive and thought about sending a quick email. But, thanks be to God, I decided instead to take some time to think and pray about what my colleague had written to me. It didn’t take me all that long to recognize the error of my ways and to apologize. Now we’re on a much better path.
Two points and then I’ll close. First, my hurried decision-making led to a mistake that I regret. Second, because I took time in my response to my colleague, I didn’t make matters worse. In fact, I was able to help make them better. I recognize that I need to build more time into my leadership life for quiet, reflection, and prayer. (In fact, I’m going to take a couple of hours this very afternoon to get alone so I can think and pray. Maybe you need to do the same in the next few days.)
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of times when you made a poor decision because you were emotionally flooded and/or because you were rushing?
Have you ever reversed a decision because you took time to think about it carefully?
When our lives are so busy, and when we find ourselves pressing ahead with haste, how can we give ourselves the time we need to be wise leaders?
Once again, Lord, we thank you for the example of Joseph. We are encouraged and challenged by his ability to change his mind, to choose a wiser and more humane course.
We see in Genesis that this came after three days. Joseph had time to reflect and reconsider. So often, Lord, we are rushing, hurrying decisions and not taking the time we need to reflect on them. Help us, dear Lord, to step back and slow down so that we might lead wisely. Even and especially when we are feeling rushed, help us to find the time we need to think and pray about our leadership. Guide us, Lord, by your Spirit. Amen.