Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pharaoh Syndrome

In 1956 Paramount Pictures released a classic movie titled “The Ten Commandments.”  It is the biblical story of Moses (played by Charlton Heston) leading the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, which was ruled by Pharaoh (played by Yul Brynner). 

A powerful leadership lesson for me from that movie is the futility of what I call the “Pharaoh Syndrome” of leadership – the belief that, based on formal authority, one can simply speak problems out of existence.  It is self-deception at its finest.  Moses repeatedly confronted Pharaoh with news of impending catastrophe unless Pharaoh released the Israeli people from bondage.

Pharaoh’s response each and every time was to defiantly refuse.  Each obstinate refusal was punctuated by these words,
“So let it be written, so let it be done!” 


Pharaoh suffered from the illusion that the power of his position would allow him to speak problems out of existence.  He believed that a wave of the scepter would eliminate the issue. 

The locusts came anyway, the frogs invaded anyway, the plagues progressed anyway, the spirit of death visited Egypt nonetheless.


Pharaoh learned some hard lessons about the limits of his authority.  I’m thinking those of us in leadership positions (whether bosses, parents, captains, or preachers) should learn from Pharaoh’s mistakes.   

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