I am not a micro-manager, nor do I try to do everything. I have learned (sometimes in humiliating fashion) that there are many who have far more knowledge and much greater ability than I do. And so I have also learned the value of asking questions and letting other people do what they do well (as I shared in a recent post). At times, though, that has not prevented me from trying to control, manage, or do everything, usually because of the mistaken assumption that only I can do what needs to be done in the way that it needs to be done. The result, typically, is that I become exhausted or overwhelmed, others are deprived of the opportunity to grow and excel, and there are things that get missed, all because I did not delegate.
Exodus 18:13-27 provides a fantastic example of the lesson of delegation. Moses, the leader of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, was hard at work doing what leaders often do: managing conflict. His father-in-law came to visit, and observed Moses’ leadership activity, and this is what he saw: 1) Moses was the primary decision-maker, and 2) it was consuming him (v. 13). In fact, it is worth noting that he was so committed to the task of ministry that he was unable to tend to his family (verse 2 says that Moses had sent his wife and children to stay with her parents during this time). When his father-in-law observed this, he decided to step in, paint a picture of what was happening, and provide some counsel to teach Moses the value of delegating.
A verse-by-verse analysis of the passage provides a wealth of information that helps us understand this principle of delegation. First we see the problem with Moses’ failure to delegate (vv. 14-16), and the resulting impact (vv. 17-18). Moses’ method of leadership revealed: 1) Micro-management – he was trying to do it all, by himself; 2) Over-commitment – it was consuming his entire day, to the neglect of other needs; 3) Self-importance – he believed he was the only one who could do it; and 4) Spiritual justification – he justified his behavior as an important task for God. The effect of this method included: 1) Collateral damage – it impacted the people around him who were trying to help; 2) Burn out – he was literally wearing himself (and others) out; 3) Over-burdened – he was carrying too much weight and responsibility, which would make him ineffective; and 4) Isolation – he was trying to do all this by himself, which left him alone.
Then we see the proposed solution (vv. 19-22) and the expected benefit (vv. 22-23) of changing his method. A change in leadership style, specifically by learning to delegate, would involve six components: 1) Advocating – establishing himself as the representative of the people; 2) Communicating – expressing expectations and instructions; 3) Selecting – choosing additional leadership, people who are capable, have integrity, and fear God; 4) Delegating – assigning tasks and responsibility; 5) Empowering – providing the authority to serve and lead in the assigned roles; and 6) Regulating – establishing the hierarchy, division of responsibilities, and process of managing and supervising. The result of this type of delegation would make the work of ministry much easier. Because the load would be shared, it would produce these benefits for both Moses and the people: 1) It would be God’s work, not Moses’ work; 2) As a result, the direction would be more clear; 3) The burden would be bearable; and 4) The customers would be satisfied.
Moses did listen to his father-in-law (demonstrating a teachable spirit) and incorporated these suggestions in his leadership practice. This passage in Exodus concludes with a description of how he did this, by selecting competent leaders and giving them their responsibilities. They fulfilled their responsibilities well, while Moses continued to manage the most difficult issues and conflicts. This is a powerful lesson and example for us as leaders. All too often, under the guise of “serving God,” we do too much and do it by ourselves, believing that this behavior is a mark of spirituality and a servant heart. In reality, it makes us ineffective for God, and most of the time, it damages relationships (particularly those closest to us – our families). Learning to delegate is a valuable principle and practice of leadership, demonstrated by Moses. Let’s follow that example.