The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." Matthew 28:16-20

A lot has been written about the importance of delegation – and it’s true in families as well as workplaces. As children grow, we begin delegating by gradually having children take greater responsibility for their own well-being. At first we feed them. But soon they are feeding themselves. They learn to brush their own teeth – and that they should do it morning and evening. They put away their own cloths. Later they learn how to neatly fold them and, still later, to wash and dry their clothes.

As employees develop, we assign them tasks to do on their own. As they show mastery, we progressively delegate more work – and the responsibility for doing it timely and up to standards. At some point, we may leave for a conference or a vacation and trust people to work on their own.

Some people delegate regularly. Others resist, finding it harder to let go and trust. No matter which way you tend to go, keep in mind there are two common mistakes that can undermine effective delegation.

  • Inadequate preparation – It’s not always easy to make prudent decisions about what and how much to delegate. But it is essential to use good judgment. I’ve never met a 14-year-old boy who didn’t think he was a marvelous driver, or would instantly be one if someone just gave him the keys to a car. Of course, it someone indulged him, he would almost certainly be an extreme danger to himself and others. Other delegation decisions are more complex and subtle. Our advice: think incrementally. We call the process “incremental success experience. Start soon but start with small steps. Break down tasks and responsibilities and build on a constant string of successes. When more direction is required, offer it quickly but gently. Your purpose is always to help the person succeed – and as soon as possible be on a self-directed path to mastery.
  • Abandonment – Some people think that delegation is turning something over to another person and then never having to pay attention to it again. That’s not true. It is true that when people are adequately prepared, they thrive in an environment of maximum autonomy. But assure them the work that you are delegating is important to you, that you are ready to help them whenever they need help, and that you want to check up on its progress from time to time. Ideally agree on how often -- whether it’s once a day, once a week, once a month, once a quarter or once a year – and from time to time revisit that plan.

Notice what Jesus tells his apostles in Matthew 26:20. Although he is delegating the work of making disciples to them, he will be with them always. Elsewhere he explains that he will send the Spirit to be with them and empower them to do their work. With Jesus as our model, we can all become better at delegating — even if our natural tendency is to do it too soon or too slow.

Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute

Copyright © 2012 Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, 208 E. North St., Durand, IL 61024. Any part of this newsletter may be reproduced so long as there is full attribution, our web site is listed, and any electronic reproduction includes a link to our site:

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