HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsLabour Perspectives: You don’t have to do it alone

Labour Perspectives: You don’t have to do it alone


Are you suffering from burnout? Read Exodus 18. Moses had just led the Israelites out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery.

He was directing them towards the Promised Land. In the midst of the Sinai Desert, Moses found himself labouring from the early hours of the morning until late into the night, attempting to resolve the numerous conflicts that arose between the Israelites.

There came a stage in his life when he had taken so much that he was facing utter exhaustion, the workload was killing him.

His father-in-law Jethro saw that Moses was headed for trouble. He wisely pulled him aside and gave him some invaluable counsel regarding the concept of delegation.

Over the weekend, I had the privilege to be invited by my pastor to give an opening speech at a strategic workshop for church leaders. I decided to talk about delegation. I found it quite topical to the gathering.

Although it seems like one of the simplest things in the world to do, delegation is an often misunderstood concept.

According to Wikipedia, delegation is the assignment of authority and responsibility to another person to carry out specific activities.

However, the person who delegates the work remains accountable for the outcome of the delegated work. Most people vacillate between micromanaging everything and completely abdicating their role. This is wrong. Fortunately, delegation is an art which can be learned.

When I read Exodus 18, I was struck by how simple and practical it was. The job of a leader is to see that all the work gets done, not to do it all themselves.

When you go through the Bible chapter, you will discover about five principles flowing out of it. These are still relevant today as they were back then.

Admit that demands on your time can be daunting.

You need others to assist you. You can’t work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and survive. Even the Bible requires us to take the Sabbath day away from our work! Jethro said in Exodus 18 verse 17-18:

“What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it alone.”

Somewhere, somehow, the wheels will come off. Something will eventually give in: your health, your sanity, your family, your career, your legacy.

Understand your unique strengths. While Moses could do things well, Jethro saw the importance of Moses concentrating on those things to which he alone added significant value. He exhorted Moses saying:

“You shall represent the people before God, and bring their cases to God . . . ” This was not something which Moses could delegate. The same is true in the workplace of today. Where is it that you add value, something that you are uniquely called and qualified to do? Something which you alone, based on your seniority or expertise, can do?

Select the best people and train them. Take account of people’s abilities when you delegate. In verse 21, Jethro admonishes Moses to “choose able men from all the people, such as fear God, men who are trustworthy and who hate a bribe . . .” Even Matthew 25 verse 15 says:

“ . . . To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability”. The focus should first be on character as a foundation. Knowledge and experience can be developed, as explained at Exodus verse 20:

“ . . . and you shall teach them the statutes and the decisions, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do”. When this is done, it is much easier to delegate. In the practical world, in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey writes:

“With immature people, you specify fewer desired results and more guidelines, identify more resources, conduct more frequent accountability interviews, and apply more immediate consequences. With more mature people, you have more challenging desired results, fewer guidelines, less frequent accountability, and less measurable but more discernible criteria.”

Give these people responsibility and authority. Jethro was a very practical person. He understood that every leader’s span of control was limited. He suggested a simple organisational hierarchy with different levels of responsibility.

He outlined “ . . . and place such men over the people as rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times . . . ” (verses 21-22).

These various management levels were designed not to impede decision-making, but to facilitate it. The secret lies in giving your people authority.

They will obviously make mistakes. Tolerance of failure is a sine qua non of the culture of excellence. Real champions make a lot of attempts and inevitably suffer some failures or they won’t learn.

Only do those things which others cannot do. Jethro advocated that Moses manage by exception. He said in verse 22: “ . . . every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves . . . ”

Dawson Trotman, the founder of The Navigators once said: “Never do anything of importance that others can do or will do when there is so much of importance to do that others cannot do or will not do”.

Isn’t this invaluable advice for every leader? Every leader’s focus should be on where they can uniquely add value.

Everything else should be let go. Educator Howard Hendriks once noted: “Any time you do for someone else what they are capable of doing for themselves, you are helping to create an emotional cripple.”

Our Lord himself modelled delegation for us. Jesus was not a one-man band. He deliberately chose disciples and he assigned them tasks. Moses and his people benefited from it.

There are numerous other examples in the Bible. Why is that that most leaders fail to or are not willing to delegate?

There are so many myths and misconceptions. Leaders think it wastes time. They think that their subordinates are not competent enough to take responsibility.

They are afraid their juniors will make mistakes. They think that only they can do everything better than anyone else. They are afraid that others may shine above them.

The truth is that they will die from burnout. Says Pastor John E Dubler: “The human machine has a limit . . . There is nothing spiritual about an early grave . . . ”

Lord, I thank you for the great privilege and responsibility of being a leader at my workplace. Forgive me if I have exercised my leadership in selfish ways; if I have seen leadership as an opportunity to get my own way; or to have control over others; or to draw attention to myself; or to seek the praise of others.

Help me to be a responsible leader; to recognise and encourage the gift of others; to be willing to work closely with others, and above all, model my leadership on that of the Lord, who did not seek to minister alone, but with his disciples. This I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Isaac Mazanhi is a labour analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on email: imazanhi@hotmail.com

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