Proper Delegation

A good leader has and applies good leadership skills.

Perhaps the most important skill is proper delegation to followers.

But too many are poor at delegation.  Many of my students have admitted that their chronic inability to delegate and empower properly as their greatest, and personally most troubling, weakness as a practicing leader. Poor delegation frustrates one’s superiors and subordinates. As a college teacher, I am hindered when administrators micromanage, instead of allowing me to administer the policies and solve the problems that arise. Perhaps you have similar experiences.

Proper delegation requires a leader to delegate authority and responsibility equally, while retaining ultimate accountability. This is a fundamental—seemingly straightforward—principle: the good leader ensures that a follower assigned a responsibility for a task, large or small, is also given the administrative, resources, information, and other support—and the genuine authority within the organization—needed for successful achievement of the task. Too much authority is unnecessary and might lead to counterproductive abuses of power. Too little authority puts unfair pressure on the person given the responsibility, hindering her ability to succeed. Proper balance is vital.

This simple principle is a matter of common sense and fairness. It goes back—not only to Henri Fayol, the father of modern management theory– but to the dawn of time. Scripture reveals that God showed the proper way to delegate from the very beginning (Genesis 1:27-28). He delegated great authority to humans over all of creation. He did not choose to micromanage, but allowed men and women the free will to choose and act, even if the result were to prove disastrous, as indeed it did, leading to the Fall. As the perfect, compassionate, and gracious ruler, God would rectify the errors of his subordinates through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. But as a leader, He did not intervene with man’s operational decisions, even though He had the power to do so and could foresee the consequences of man’s incorrect choices. Any good leader should refrain from micromanaging and from interfering too quickly. But as ultimately accountable, he may have to step in at some point in support of his followers when the mission is endangered.

The principle of proper delegation applies universally. It works well for all people in various social organizations. For example, we can learn from the example of the Egyptian Pharaoh who put Joseph over all the land of Egypt, subject only to his own power of the throne (Gen. 41:39-42). Pharaoh knew how to delegate.

Are you a good enough leader to learn and apply this lesson? We are not perfect and so cannot expect to be perfect leaders. But the best way to lead is by delegating properly, assigning responsibilities and empowering with the corresponding adequate level of authority. Moreover, we need to retain the ultimate accountability to accept blame for our subordinates’ lapses and to award them the praise and recognition, even in those cases when we have had to make some repairs.

Proper delegation is an essential skill for good leadership. Practice it and make it a habit.

>>This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.


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