It means believing in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of another. Often, trusting another person to tackle a job for which we’ve been responsible can be a major challenge for a person in leadership.
Frequently, a leader’s thought pattern goes something like this: “I know I can do the job, I know how I would like the job done. What if they can’t do it or they do it differently? What if they completely destroy the area where I’ve invested all of my hard work and energy? On the other hand, what if they succeed? What if they do it better than I did? What if they make me look bad?”
Right or wrong, these are many of the thoughts that go through a leaders mind when it’s time to delegate part of their responsibilities to others. Other thoughts include:
How do I know someone is the right person for the job?
Does needing help mean that I’m inadequate as a leader?
Let’s start by answering the last question first.
No, choosing to delegate responsibility does not mean you are an inadequate leader. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. A good leader understands that the ability to delegate responsibility is a key part of their leadership role.
As we talked about last month, a good leader needs to start by finding out what their calling is---what responsibilities has God given them that no one else is able to do? We talked about how Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, helped Moses understand that his calling was to serve as an intermediary between God and the Israelite people, to learn God’s Laws and teach the people how to apply God’s Laws to their every area of their lives. That was Moses’ “job description”.
After you’ve determined what specific tasks God has designed you to carry, the next step in being a good leader is having the humility and ability to choose other godly leaders who can carry out the rest of the tasks that need to be done and delegate these responsibilities to them. Then you become their leader as they lead the people under them. Like every successful business or army, you establish a chain of command in which everyone understands their responsibilities and who they can turn to above them when their responsibilities become too overwhelming. Those who are able to establish this chain of command and delegate responsibility will succeed as leaders. Those who can’t delegate will quickly burn out and fail as leaders.
So how can we learn to delegate responsibility properly? Well, let’s go back to Exodus 18 and see what Jethro taught Moses about the topic.
“But select capable men from all the people” (Exodus 18:21)
Notice the two key words in this verse are “SELECT” and “CAPABLE”.
To “select” means to carefully choose from a group of people or things what is the best or most suitable.
Notice that Jethro didn’t suggest that Moses ask for volunteers. He said that Moses should carefully choose people who were “Capable” or who had the ability, fitness, or quality necessary to do or achieve a specified thing. He was to choose people who were able to achieve efficiently whatever they were given to do; they were competent.
We’re stopping here because I think this is something that we often miss within the realm of Christian leadership. Too often in our effort to be fair, to get people involved and make them feel welcome, or even because we feel like we ought to give everyone a chance, Christians allow unqualified, incapable people to fill positions which are way over their heads. Someone with a willing heart and a good attitude volunteers for a position and we ‘allow’ them to fill it rather than picking and choosing the right man or woman for the job. Quite frankly, this is usually a recipe for disaster.
The truth is that it isn’t kind to the person volunteering or the people they will be serving to allow an under-experienced or unqualified person fill a position of leadership. The volunteer is being set up to fail; and the people they are serving will be inadequately served at best, destroyed and hurt at worst. That’s why Jethro didn’t tell Moses to ask for volunteers.
Instead, he told Moses to “select” or “choose” people who were qualified to take the leadership positions. Then he went on to discuss some of the qualifications Moses should look for in potential candidates.
“But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men, who hate dishonest gain” (Exodus 18:21)
These were the moral qualifications that Jethro told Moses to look for in potential leaders. They had to be people who feared God---they had to be morally reverent. They had to be trustworthy.They had to hate dishonest gain.
In 1 Timothy 3, the Apostle Paul gives his young protégé, Timothy, a list of moral specifications that he should use to select leaders. It’s interesting that in the Age of Grace, the list of qualifications becomes more comprehensive. Perhaps it goes with the theory that to whom much is given, much is required. Let’s look at Paul’s guidelines:
“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 3:1-12)
Both of the passages in Exodus and 1 Timothy make one point abundantly clear: When you’re choosing people on whom to delegate responsibility, you need to establish what moral obligations you expect them to uphold before offering them the leadership position. Being completely open, I have to admit that this was a leadership lesson that I learned the hard way. If you want to save yourself a lot of heartache, take my advice and be honest about what moral expectations you have right up front.
Without going into a lot of detail, let me tell you how I learned this lesson.
The truth is that when this experience happened, I was just getting my feet wet in the area of leadership. At the time, I didn’t have a statement of beliefs for the ministry or a list of moral qualifications that I expected anyone who worked for us to follow. I simply assumed that everyone knew what I was thinking, what I expected, and that it was understood that certain behaviors were to be avoided. Boy, was I wrong! When I had to confront someone with their unacceptable behavior, they said, “I had no idea. You never said it was a problem. How can you expect me to follow rules I don’t even know about?”
Thankfully, I had an older, wiser friend who helped me understand how I needed to correct the situation. This person taught me that a good leader makes their standards clearly known right from the beginning. Anyone who works for them is given a job description (so that their responsibilities are clearly defined) and a written code of beliefs and conduct (so they know the moral qualifications that are expected and required.) My friend (my own personal Jethro) helped me understand that a good leader chooses the people to whom they delegate responsibilities based on both their abilities to perform the necessary tasks and their moral character. This person helped me to grow as a leader and learn how to more properly delegate responsibility so that I would not suffer the same challenges again in the future. What a friend!
I’m sharing this experience with you so that you can learn from my mistakes and avoid the heartache and struggle that I went through. What this experience taught me is that Jethro was 100% right when he told Moses to choose leaders who were qualified---both in their abilities and their character. Don’t put warm bodies in positions just to say that a position is filled. Study a person’s life, their previous experiences, their reputation, and their resume. Remember, if you’re delegating your responsibilities to them, then they are representing you. Make sure they are worthy of your trust. If they aren’t; then keep looking. Fill positions and delegate responsibility to selected people who meet the criteria of being able to carry out their responsibilities faithfully.
Okay, let’s move on and see what else Jethro has to say.
“But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” (Exodus 18:21)
Basically, Jethro is telling Moses to set up a chain of command. The numbers appear to be conventional, corresponding nearly, but not exactly, to the military, or civil divisions of the people. They were to be arranged in a graduated series of groups in multiples of ten, with Moses being the court of final appeals.
Again, this instruction teaches us an interesting point about delegation. Just like the military consists of various ranks which corresponds to a soldier’s level of responsibility and number of people under their command, so a good leader will evaluate a person’s abilities, character, training, and previous leadership experience and delegate their level of responsibilities accordingly.
For example, a pastor will require different levels of maturity, experience, and moral qualifications from a Sunday School Teacher than he would a Sunday School Superintendant. A Children’s Pastor would require even more training, experience, and higher moral expectations.
Why? Because a person who is qualified to teach 4-5 kids in a Sunday School class may not be ready to lead the entire Sunday School Department. The Sunday School Superintendant may do a fine job running Sunday School, but they couldn’t handle the responsibility that comes with running the entire Children’s Department. It’s important as we’re delegating responsibilities that we put people in positions for which they are qualified and that we establish a chain of command in which people know who to consult if they find themselves in a situation they can’t handle.
Reality is that no successful army would ever let a Sergeant give the commands from the White House War Room. That’s a job for a general. A good leader knows the difference between a Sergeant and a General and delegates responsibility and authority accordingly.
Let’s look at one final leadership lesson that Jethro taught Moses: “Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.” (Exodus 18:22)
Jethro told Moses to choose capable men that he could trust and give them clear job descriptions as to whom and how they were to serve. Then he said, “Then let them do their jobs while you do yours. Trust them that if they need you they’ll come to you, but let them serve.”
Sometimes it’s really hard for leaders to avoid the temptation to micromanage after they’ve delegate responsibility. However, a micromanaging person doesn’t allow people to effectively do their jobs and establish themselves as leaders in their new positions. It basically makes the whole delegation process void---good in theory, but not really happening. This is not good leadership.
Instead, if you want to be a good leader who delegates responsibility, you have to back off a little bit after you’ve selected a person to fill a position. Be there if they come to you, but let them get their feet wet and do their job. If you’ve done a good job selecting, they’ll do a good job with their responsibilities. If there’s a problem, you can deal with it when it comes up, but at least give them a chance to do a good job without controlling their every move. In the meantime, you can get about the business of doing what God called you to do. Isn’t that why you delegated the responsibility in the first place?
You see, delegation isn’t easy. It’s basically a matter of trust. Trust is never easy. Let’s talk heart to heart here for a moment---trust is hardest for those who’ve had their trust betrayed and been burned by other people. When someone has failed you, turned against you, tried to pull a coupe and attacked your role as a leader, or betrayed you, it’s really hard to give up your control and delegate responsibility again. I know from experience. You see, there was a time in my life when I trusted a lot easier than I do today. I delegated responsibility to someone without really looking at their qualifications (perhaps I even ignored some warning signs) and I got burned---badly. It was a really difficult time---common to leaders---but still really hard.
Eventually, I got through the situation and thought I was well on my way to overcoming the issue and getting back on track. Then I was faced with a challenge. A task came up that required delegation. I don’t mind telling you that I was scared. There was no way I was going through that kind of pain ever again! Was God really asking me to trust someone else and delegate responsibility to them?
Yes, He was. I clearly remember the night that He said, “So, you’re telling Me that if you were the pastor of a church and you had one difficult staff experience you’d never hire another staff member again? You’d do everything yourself?”
Somehow when He put it that way, I saw the ridiculousness of my attitude. Think about it: if a McDonald’s manager catches one employee stealing, he can’t refuse to hire anymore employees again. He can’t cook the food, take the orders, run the drive thru, bus the tables and clean the bathrooms all by himself. That’s ridiculous!
In the same way just because you or I might have had one bad experience, doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Delegating responsibility is a part of leadership. We can’t be good, godly leaders without it.
What we can do is take the lessons that we learned from our bad experiences and be more careful in the process of selecting people and assigning duties. Jethro was very clear that a good leader will take this process very seriously. However, in the end, all we can do is make the wisest choices in selecting leaders and then stand back and trust them to do a good job. It’s all part of being a good leader.
As Jethro told Moses, “If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
If we follow these tips for delegation, with God’s help, we’ll see the same results as Moses. We’ll be able to fulfill the calling God has for our lives, and all of the people and programs under our leadership will be properly served. That end result is worth taking a chance. Trust me.