A couple of months ago my family came together during a difficult time, when my father had a stroke. As we gathered together in the hospital, often our conversations would turn to our memories of the words of wisdom he had shared over the years. Some of it was quite funny, but all of it was wise, so I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the wisdom I have learned from him through the years. Some are a repeat of previous posts (because I had already been sharing his wisdom), and some are topics I haven’t shared before. My father went home to be with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on Sunday, May 8, 2016. I grieve at the loss of my hero, mentor, and friend, but I rejoice at the celebration of his arrival in heaven.
This week, I am sharing a lesson that he taught me about delegation. This particular lesson was not as specifically intentional as others that he taught me, but rather was a lesson he modeled in response to circumstances in his own life, and it is one that made an impact on me. I actually shared this post a couple of years ago, but this time around I am connecting it to the lesson I learned from his example.
Unquestionably my dad was a hard worker, and accomplished much more than most people in the same amount of time (when he was younger, training as an electrician, he was once told to slow down because he was getting too much work done and was making the other employees look bad). This same work effort translated into the way he worked around the house, getting a lot done at home. I think that’s why I remember being surprised one day when he paid someone else to do some of the yard work rather than do it himself. When I asked him about that, he told me, “Jeff, time is money, and sometimes it’s a better use of my time, and in turn my money, to have someone else do it, because of the amount of other work I can get done during the same time, or the amount of money I can make myself using that same amount of time to work for pay.” Interestingly, one of the valuable lessons I learned from that experience was the wisdom in knowing when it is better to have someone else do the work rather than doing it all yourself.
Over the years, as someone serving in a position of leadership, that lesson has translated and evolved into a healthy view of delegation. I am not a micro-manager, nor do I try to do everything. I have learned that it is at times not the best use of my own time, money, and/or abilities to do a specific task, and I have also 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 therefore learned the value of asking questions and letting other people do what they do well. 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, and (for me) also modeled by my father. Let’s follow that example.