Leadership development programs and seminars teach the importance of properly delegating responsibility. In Christian circles, the favorite go-to scriptures for the how-to of delegating are found in Exodus 18.
Not long after the Israelites had set out into the wilderness from Egypt, Moses’ Father in-law Jethro shows up to offer advice which has served as a paradigm for good leaders down through the centuries. Talk about being over-worked—Moses was shouldering a load too big for any one man, even if he was hand-picked by the Almighty.
From morning through evening he served as the sole judge for every dispute among a multitude of people. Gleaning information from scholars and researches, it appears that counting women and children there may have been as many as two and a half million souls. That’s a lot of people problems to arbitrate.
Jethro’s counsel, beginning in verse 17, shines a beacon of guiding wisdom. Allow me to paraphrase his words into today’s language.
“What are you doing son? This is nuts! You can’t keep this up—judging for all these people from morning till evening.”
Moses answered, “They come to me to decide their disputes so I can inform them of God’s decrees and laws.”
“What you’re doing is not good” Jethro said, “You’re going to wear yourselves out like this. You can’t handle this work alone.”
So far all we see here is the necessity of delegating some responsibility. We can’t try to do everything ourselves. Let’s go further into the text and find some of the how-to.
First Jethro confirms what everybody already knows. Moses is God’s man. He needs to continue to be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to Him (vs-18). In other words, he tells Moses he’s on the right track in what he’s doing, but he’s going about it the wrong way. And many times we tend to do the same thing out of fear that it won’t get done, or we won’t get the results we hope for. If you feel you have to do everything yourself, then you’re sunk before you’ve even set sail.
Selecting the right personnel: The criteria for choosing the right people to delegate responsibility to is revealed in our text.
\"…Select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth and delegate assignments to them.\" (Exodus 18:21)
Don’t pick someone simply because they don’t happen to be doing anything at the moment. Take the time to match up the right person with the right virtues and skill set.
Trust: First they must be trustworthy. Someone you can trust to perform a specific task, or to lead a certain team. Once you select someone, then trust them to get the job done without always looking over their shoulder or constantly seeking an update on the status of a particular task. Allow them to do it their way. After all, you trust them right? Along with the responsibility, you must also delegate the authority to get it done. Delegate and then don’t interfere. .
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”—Gen. George Patton
Jethro said, “…Show them the way in which they must walk but then let them judge the people at all times.” (Exodus 18: 20, 22).
Able: Next, they must be capable. It should be someone who has the talent and skills required for that position. This is a good time to facilitate a person’s latent abilities. Learn to recognize the capability that may be lying dormant in those you lead. And give them opportunities to nurture their talents and to grow. When they do well, you look good.
Fear God: For Christian organizations, God fearing people are the ones we hope to have on our team, whether above or below us on the ladder of responsibility. For one thing, fellow Christians have a better understanding of what all of you together hope to accomplish. We all hope to glorify God, proclaim the gospel of Christ, and usher in His soon return. Having those same underlying drives in common helps everyone work with a unified effort, bringing maximum potential.
Honest: They must be honest. Surround yourself with honest people who are willing to be held accountable. And who actually seek out accountability for themselves—this is the mark of a truly honest person.
Which Tasks Should You Delegate? Jethro advised Moses to focus on teaching God’s laws and decrees, since he was the only man capable of doing so (Vs. 17, 20). Save the tasks that only you can do for yourself. Do the ones that are the most critical. Other people may be better than you at particular things. Match them up with what they are good at, and then you can focus on your strengths, while allowing them to utilize their strengths.
Clear Objectives: Be certain you have laid out clear objectives and goals, not just to the ones directly under you, but to the entire team. Everyone needs to be aiming at the right target, and understand the desired end results. Create mile-markers along the way and meet to assess how well on-target the work is going. Then get out of the way again.
Remain Accessible: Make certain that those you delegate to know that you are available for any questions or any clarification they may need of the assignment. Express your confidence in them to get the job done, but don’t make them afraid to come to you when something too difficult for them comes up. Instruct them on any specifics of how to bring problems to your attention. An open door policy is ideal, but of course this is not always possible.
“Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you.” (Exodus 18: 22).
Always give credit where and when it is due. Especially to God. Publicly acknowledging achievement and good performance is crucial for maintaining loyalty. And it creates a unifying bond—team spirit.
\"Make them rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.\" (Exodus 18: 21).
Your delegating skills will teach others to delegate as well, all the way down the chain of responsibility and authority.
Moses put all of his father-in-law’s advice into practice and did very well. Jethro turned out to be a great consultant and a wise man. Here’s verses 24-26.
“Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.”
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