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The Biblical Joseph: Lessons for administrators

August 21, 2012
by H. Steven Moffic, MD
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Six lessons show that no management lessons are really so new

Ever since my recent retirement, I tend to think more of my own personal history as well as that of the behavioral healthcare field. 

At times, these associations have drifted all the way back to the Old Testament. Back to Joseph, perhaps our first behavioral healthcare clinician and administrator. Like most of us, he had to learn administration and management the hard way, making many mistakes along the way.

If you've forgotten - or don't know - the story, it can be found in the Genesis section of the Old Testament (Torah). Or, for a more modern day version, see the popular musical play or any of the video versions based on the story. In the meanwhile, here's a few paraphrased excerpts, and what they might mean for modern behavioral administration.

Favoritism: Jacob gives Joseph, his favorite son, a "coat of many colors", which stimulates the envy of his brothers. Recommendation: Administrators should be very careful about showing such overt and dramatic favoritism.

Narcissism: Joseph tells his brothers of his dreams, which suggest they will later come under his domination. Recommendation: Would-be administrators should be careful about their ego, and empathize with those they may pass by.

Failure: Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, and ends up in an Egyptian jail; in jail, he becomes a valuable interpreter of dreams. Recommendation: Don't give up after even a major failure, but learn alternative ways to use your strengths and skills.

Gratefulness: Joseph becomes so successful in interpreting dreams in Egypt that he is asked to interpret those of the Pharoah, but this time around attributes his success to God rather than solely or mainly himself. Recommendation: No matter how much your success seems to come from yourself, be sure to acknowledge the help and support of others.

Planning: Joseph recognized that there were enough clues about future climate change to make controversial plans for periods of drought. Recommendation: Despite whatever immediate problems need attention, and how bad we are at prediction, always try to keep anticipated future needs and dangers in the picture.

Forgiveness: Near the end of the story, Joseph encounters his brothers after many years, and surreptitiously tests out whether they have changed for the better; the truth comes out, Joseph forgives them, and there is a heartwarming reconciliation. Recommendation: Forgiveness, after truthfulness and a sincere apology, along with some indication of real change, can help any organization move forward.

Which of thes models, if any, do you tend to use in your work as an administrator?

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H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...