Leading through Crisis

7 Thoughts on Leadership in Time of Crisis

Times of crisis are the most difficult times to lead. The leader faces all of the same pressures and difficulties that everyone else does. On top of that, he carries the weight of the organization and the people within it upon his shoulders. That being said, a crisis is when a leader is needed most. How we lead during difficult days will determine how effective we are and how we will be remembered.

One of the greatest leaders in the Bible is Joseph. Joseph was not a pastor; he was a politician. He overcame extraordinary trials to become the Prime Minister of Egypt at the young age of thirty. He led the nation through a worldwide famine and economic depression. The world may have starved if it had not been for Joseph’s leadership. When COVID-19 began sweeping through our country, the Lord led me to Genesis chapter 41. I want to share some crisis leadership principles that have helped me in recent days.

1. Lead Yourself

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.–Genesis 41:14

The crisis began when Pharaoh had a dream he could not interpret. In a few frantic moments, Joseph is called from prison to the palace. He gets shaved, dressed, and before he knows it, he is standing before the most powerful man on the face of the earth.

It may only take fifteen minutes for a man to get his body ready to stand before the king in the moment of crisis, but it takes much longer than that for a man to get his heart and mind prepared. In a few short hours, Joseph will be leading a nation.

Joseph was ready to lead others publicly because he had been leading himself privately for years. His heart was right with God. His emotions were under control. His mind was sharp. In a metaphorical sense, we have all been “in prison” over the last months. How have you been leading yourself? How has your Bible reading and your prayer life been going? Have you disciplined yourself to get your work done? Have you been discerning in your entertainment choices? We should not expect God to call us to the palace if we have not been faithful in the prison. Before a man can do much for God he must first be much with God. Before we can lead in a crisis, we have to lead ourselves.

2. Know the Difference between the Source and a Resource

And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.–Genesis 41:16

When Pharaoh asked Joseph for the interpretation of the dream, Joseph told him, “I am not the source of peace. I am a resource. It is not in me. I am someone who can point you to the One who has the solution to your crisis.” In that answer, Joseph did two critical things: First, he gave glory to God. Second, he took the pressure off of himself. Joseph did not have all the answers, and he did not have to have all the answers. He was merely a man who pointed others to God.

Leaders, remember that you are not the ultimate source of truth, provision, or wisdom. God is. The greatest thing the leader can do for his spiritual health and for the health of those who follow him is to direct them to God and His Word. Leaders have clarity in crisis, but they know where they got it.

3. Be Transparent and Tell the Truth

In verses 25-32, Joseph gives Pharaoh the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The king probably loved the first part of Joseph’s prediction: Seven years of bumper crops and economic explosion. He probably did not appreciate the second part of the prediction: seven years of famine that would lead to a depression so severe the years of plenty would be totally forgotten. Joseph would have faced the all-too-familiar temptation to water down the truth to curry favor with Pharaoh. He refused.

The leader’s job is not to trim the truth, complain about the truth, or react to the truth. It’s to accept it, declare it, and to lead people to respond accordingly.

4. See Crisis as an Opportunity, Not an Obstacle

Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.–Genesis 41:34-36

While everyone else focused on the problem, Joseph was leading towards a solution. He could see that God was doing something—not in spite of the crisis, but because of it. Our church has seen God do some important work during this crisis. We have seen souls come to Christ. We have experienced seasons of encouragement and unity. New ministries have been started, and new platforms have been adopted. The crisis has also revealed some weaknesses that need to be strengthened. We would have never known about them if not for the famine.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Trials make room for consolation. There is nothing that makes a man have a big heart like a great trial. I have found that those people who have no sympathy for their fellows, who never weep for the sorrows of others very seldom have any of their own. Great hearts could be made only by great troubles.”

The classic leadership debate is, “Are leaders born or made?” The answer is both. Crisis is the crucible in which the leader’s dross is purified, and his resolve is strengthened. We should all see crisis as an opportunity to grow.

5. Refuse to Promote Yourself

Joseph had a million-dollar idea, but he did not assume that he was the man to implement it.

Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.–Proverbs 25:6-7

In a crisis, people will find a leader. You will turn around, and they will be following you. If no one is following, it may not be your time to lead yet. Keep leading yourself and refuse to be a self-promoter.

6. The Leader’s Greatest Need Is the Filling of the Spirit

And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:–Genesis 41:38–39

Pharaoh did not say, “Can we find such a one who is as handsome, educated, winsome, or eloquent as this one?” Joseph’s wisdom, discretion, and godliness distinguished him from others. After knowing him for only a few minutes, it was apparent God was with him and in him.

In his classic book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders observes, “Spiritual leadership requires Spirit-filled people; other qualities are important; Spirit-filling is indispensable.” Leader, can others see Christ in you?

7. Be Willing to make Unpopular Decisions

How do you think the Egyptian people responded to a 20% tax during the years of plenty? My guess is that Joseph was wildly unpopular. He was willing to bear the burden of unpopularity, however, because he had a Word from God, and he knew he was doing the right thing.

Every leader has to decide whether he wants the people that follow him to like him, or whether he wants to lead them. Those things are not always mutually exclusive, but sometimes they are.

Genesis 41:54 says, “And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.”

Crisis times are the most difficult times to lead, but leaders can make a difference.

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