All life involves systems—structure, interaction, behavior, and development. Some are complex while others are simple. Good systems enable health and growth while bad systems do the opposite. Whether Joseph, son of Jacob, whom we learn about in Genesis 37-50 knew it or not, he was a master of establishing a life giving system. Before looking at what he established and the process he facilitated, reflecting on his remarkable interpersonal skill is foundational.
Of the several ways one can gain influence to serve another person, none is more empowering than to listen well. Listening is not something that is taught in school or in most workplaces. It is naively thought that listening just happens. Most married couples will dispel that notion! If not in marriage, all parents know that children hear more of what they want to hear than what is intended. There have been books written on how to be a better listener—Proverbs especially talks much about the value of listening. But like many skills, you only learn to listen well by intentional practice.
For those who would like an objective resource to assess your listening ability, the best I have found is in this short online assessment: http://www.leadersource.org/resources/instruments.php
Joseph was a man who intentionally learned to listen. Unfortunately, he had to learn his skill through some very difficult life situations. In Genesis 37 he twice told of dreams he had to his parents and siblings only to not hear or observe their responses. We can only imagine his many painful hours of reflection as a slave on how he would have shared his dreams differently. To serve as an excellent steward to Potiphar (39:1-6) he had to have learned to listen well. Later while in prison, he listened to and served prisoners so well he was given complete charge (39:21-23). Finally, when interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph displayed a discerning listening ability (beyond his special gift) that could both grasp the scope of the challenge and recommend a wise solution.
Good listeners are often perceived as understanding well. To be understood is to feel loved. (See Paul Tournier, To Understand Each Other) To feel loved is to act in response to the “lover.” The greatest life giving change takes place when people feel safe and loved. Joseph exhibited these qualities.
Again, for Potiphar to make Joseph his personal servant and steward of his entire household, he had to be convinced that Joseph understood his master’s wishes (39:4-6). As a fellow prisoner with the cupbearer and baker, he understood how hard it was to be unjustly treated and exuded empathy (40:14-15). Even the common people in Egypt affirmed his amazing understanding of them and their need (47:25). But, Joseph’s greatest demonstration of understanding came after revealing himself to his brothers, and when recognizing their fear, he could attest that what they meant for evil God had a higher purpose for good (45:7; 50:19-21).
Could Joseph have established the systems within Egypt to save and store food along with executing an equitable process to save lives without having learned to listen and understand? I suspect not. Every organizational system needs leaders with these essential qualities. How do others perceive your ability to listen and understand?
Next Blog: Joseph was a systems thinker.