The next day Moses took his place to judge the people. People were standing before him all day long, from morning to night. When Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What's going on here? Why are you doing all this, and all by yourself, letting everybody line up before you from morning to night?" Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me with questions about God. When something comes up, they come to me. I judge between a man and his neighbor and teach them God's laws and instructions."
Moses' father-in-law said, "This is no way to go about it. You'll burn out, and the people right along with you. This is way too much for you—you can't do this alone. Now listen to me. Let me tell you how to do this so that God will be in this with you. Be there for the people before God, but let the matters of concern be presented to God. Your job is to teach them the rules and instructions, to show them how to live, what to do. And then you need to keep a sharp eye out for competent men—men who fear God, men of integrity, men who are incorruptible—and appoint them as leaders over groups organized by the thousand, by the hundred, by fifty, and by ten. They'll be responsible for the everyday work of judging among the people. They'll bring the hard cases to you, but in the routine cases they'll be the judges. They will share your load and that will make it easier for you. If you handle the work this way, you'll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands you, and the people in their settings will flourish also." Moses listened to the counsel of his father-in-law and did everything he said.
–Bible, Exodus 18: 13-24
Even back in Biblical times, leaders had far more to do than they could accomplish by themselves. This fascinating interchange between Moses and his father-in-law shows how Moses was able to successfully lead two million people for over forty years while wandering in the desert. If it worked for Moses, shouldn't it work for you?
Unfortunately, many leaders are fearful of delegation. This limits their growth opportunities, creates a crushing workload, and prevents their people from learning new skills that lead to a stronger bench. Without successful delegation, you will have a poor and much less productive life as a leader.
I learned about delegation early in my career. I had been assigned as the officer in charge of Auxiliary Division. A-Div was responsible for all the non-nuclear engineering on the submarine, such as the hydraulics, compressed air, sanitary, and diesel engine components. The ship was in refit period, which is thirty days between patrols to repair and replenish the ship. We were in the last few days of refit, which was the busiest time. Being a new division officer, I wanted to impress my men by actively participating in the work. We were repairing the diesel generator and I was up to my elbows in grease. I looked up and saw my Chief Petty Officer in civilian clothes with some of the other Chiefs. In disbelief, I asked him, "Where do you think you are going?" He stared at me and said, "I'm going to the beach, sir. I figure if you are going to do my job for me, we don't need both of us on the boat."
My chief had given me an early and important lesson about delegating authority and trusting the people who worked for me. From that point on, he was the hands-on leader, and I ended up primarily doing the paperwork.
The key to successful delegation is to ask the question, "Do I absolutely have to do this task, or can someone else do it?" Any time a piece of paper, e-mail, phone call or task crosses my desk, I ask this question. Many leaders rationalize doing tasks themselves with justifications like, "I could give this to someone else, but I can do it faster myself" or "It would take much longer to train someone to do this, so I'll do it this time." These statements are true—in the short run. But, once you do a task yourself, you are destined to continue doing the task from then on. If you add up all the times you might end up doing the task, it is almost always better to spend upfront time delegating, training and following up.
Next week, I will continue on the topic of delegation. Make sure to check back!