“But select capable men from all the people…and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 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. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”  (Exodus 18:21-23) (NIV)

This passage has often been referred to as the “Jethro principle” of delegation.  Jethro, Moses’ father in law, was concerned that Moses was headed toward burnout trying to handle all the administration of the people of Israel and laid out a formula for him to delegate the simpler decisions to judges with various levels of responsibility over the nation.  If you are like me, this September has put a strain on you in trying to get done all that you need to do.  Therefore, it is timely to be reminded of the benefits of delegation.

I suggest that there are three key benefits of delegating more in your organization:

1)  IT LIGHTENS THE LOAD AND MAKES DECISION MAKING MORE EFFICIENT – This is the most immediate and obvious benefit of the Jethro Principle of delegating more to others and was the primary motivation in the Exodus passage.  Jethro was concerned that Moses was approaching burnout.  In Exodus 18: 17,18 Jethro tells Moses, “What you doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you: you cannot handle it alone.”    

Note that this passage includes an important insight of people management that we normally do not think about.  It was not only Moses who was getting worn out, but the people as well.  During a contract that I had with Husky Energy there was one manager on my floor who always had a constant stream of people at his door.  As one employee left the line to return to his office, I overheard him impatiently say to another, “I do not have time to sit and wait for access to him, why doesn’t he delegate some of this stuff for us to deal with on our own?”   If you do not delegate authority for decisions effectively in your organization, you may be wearing your people out as they all fight for face time with you.

2)  IT PROVIDES A TRAINING TRACK FOR OTHER LEADERS IN YOUR ORGANIZATION – If decision making authority is held to closely by a small group of leaders, you deprive the up and comers of the means to develop their leadership skills.  Yes, delegating authority will involve risk that some tasks will not be done to your quality standard.  However, think for a moment about your own leadership skill development.  Did you not learn as much from your mistakes as from your successes?  If there is no commitment to leadership development, no ability for young leaders to have true authority and make decisions and manage people, you risk losing some your best talent to other organizations.

3)  IT FREES YOU TO DO THE UNIQUE TASKS OF YOUR BUSINESS THAT ONLY YOU CAN DO – A key characteristic of high-performing teams is that the main leaders avoid becoming too caught up in the operational so that they can focus upon future planning and strategic issues that only they can do.  There is a word for a business leader who becomes too involved in the day to day operations of a business; it is “micro-manager”.  I have yet to hear any employee say, “My boss is a micro-manager and I really appreciate all the help he gives me.”  When the main leader becomes too involved in the day to day operations, it triggers concern not only about micro-managing, but employees also become concerned about the lack of focus upon business development, strategic planning and other areas that only the “boss” or top leader can do. 

Don Laurie in his book, The Real Work of Leaders puts this succinctly:

“Many leaders honestly believe that they can ill afford NOT to oversee routine matters… They get sucked into time-consuming operational problems at the expense of strategic thinking.  The real tragedy is that (these leaders) are doing work the people around them should be doing and NOT focusing on the work people in the organization are counting on them, and only them to do.”

This week remember Jethro’s words to Moses, “If you do this… (delegate!) you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

REFLECTION:

  1. Identify 2 or 3 key tasks that you can delegate in the next few weeks to lighten your load and free up time for strategic planning.
  2. Are there some areas of authority that you need to entrust and delegate to those in your organization whose leadership you would like to develop?

© John Wiseman – Corpath Business Forums – www.corpath.ca