Do strategy and Scripture have anything to do with each other? I’m convinced they do. Sometimes it is clearly stated in a single passage and other times it is embedded deep in the narrative or overall context.
Too often we separate and compartmentalize the Scriptures from our real world of life and work. Or we abuse the Scriptures or torment business best practices trying to combine them. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about a more natural, exegetically accurate and practically useful integration.
In the Bible, you see strategy in the way the Israelite camp was organized, in the way the temple came together, in the way Paul and other apostles spread the church, even in the way Jesus trained His disciples. Remember how the Book of Galatians says God sent His Son “At just the right time”? The Bible is full of strategy.
You can look at leaders like Moses, Nehemiah, and David and find insights about strategy. My favorite Bible character to study strategy is Joseph. If Joseph were living today, his Twitter handle might be @Christian. @Leader. @Strategist. (Either that or @KingofDreams.)
Joseph’s life generally fits into three seasons:
- The young dreamer (ages 0-17)
- Cellar dweller to corner office. Then repeat (ages 17-30).
- Leading a nation (ages 30-110)
In the story of Joseph leading the nation of Egypt, we see all three legs of effective strategy: imagining forward, organizing that thinking into a coherent plan, and finally, making hard choices of implementation.
These three stages certainly overlap and often blend. But understand—they are not the same thing. They are three different mindsets and work pieces, and Joseph walked through all three.
Strategic Thinking: Dreaming of the future, imagining forward, getting insights, seeing through the turns—whatever you want to call it, this is the first step of all good strategy. Joseph reported his dreams about the future and he recognized the implications and opportunities of a coming national food shortage. Joseph thought around the corner to trends and outcomes years ahead.
Sometimes strategic thinking comes from sudden flashes of insight and other times it comes from more methodical analysis. Regardless, all good strategy starts with and travels the road to a future state. Where do you want to be in five years? What contribution can you and your company offer the world? What is your hope for change? Set aside some time for some of this “deep work,” as Cal Newport calls it.
Strategic Planning: At some point, you must convert that brilliant thinking into an actionable coherent plan. Who is going to do what…when…and how much will it cost? Every now and then a plan unfolds itself but more often someone must play the role of filter, author, editor, refiner, etc. Look at your resources and sequence your steps.
I think Joseph was strategic in the way he engaged conversations with his brothers and his captors. I see Joseph translating the dreams of others into a coherent plan. He was a translator of the vision for others. And as Chuck Swindoll wrote in his book on Joseph, “Sometimes you must consider the ridiculous to arrive at an innovative, creative plan.”
Strategic Execution: The greatest of plans will never self-execute. There must be a mechanism or intention of implementation. And it must be as strategic as the thinking and the planning. This is often where leaders and executives go dumb. We go limp or neutral during implementation, thinking it is automatic.
It’s never automatic, though, because, as Joseph learned, something always goes awry. Strategic execution demands pivots. As Tom Peters said, “Test fast. Fail fast. Adjust fast.”
Joseph certainly had to do a lot of pivoting in his life—responding to being stabbed in the back more than once. Then, as second in command of Egypt, he had to respond to opportunities in his personal life and in the life of the nation.
I have had the chance to work with some amazing strategic minds and I would put Joseph up there with the best. Whether it was navigating the disruption being thrown at him in his personal life or mapping out the macro plan for Egypt, the global power country of his day, he was truly one of the best thinkers, planners, and implementers the world has ever seen. His accomplishments were as remarkable as any icon in the business or ministry world today. It’s certainly fair to look to him as an example of strategy.
Michael Porter wrote, “The underlying principles of strategy are enduring, regardless of technology or the pace of change.” I’m not sure he was thinking about Joseph from a few millennia ago, but I’d argue he’s right all the same.