March 27, 2012

Stop Micromanaging: Jethro’s Advice to Moses on Delegating Leadership

 
by Matt Perman and Matt

This is a guest post by Loren Pinilis, who blogs on time management from a biblical perspective at Life of a Steward

In Exodus 18, Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, offers sound advice that all leaders should take to heart.

From morning to evening, Moses would judge the disputes of the people. And from morning to evening, they would stand around waiting to have their cases heard. Jethro counseled Moses: “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you.”

Moses was essentially micro-managing things by allowing all decisions to be funneled through him.

Note that Moses had good intentions. He wanted the people to know and understand the law, and he took his influence and responsibility over the nation seriously. He judged each case personally because each case mattered to him and to God.

It’s the same for leaders today, particularly in ministry roles. We have a reverence for even the smallest areas under our influence, and we have a healthy respect for our duties as leaders.

But there are very serious consequences when we let our concept of a sacred duty turn into micro-management.

Jethro could see that this pattern of behavior would cause utter exhaustion for Moses, and that’s what most people focus on when they mention this passage. But Jethro also realized that Moses’s leadership style would have a negative effect on the people. The court would get backlogged, the nation would be frustrated, and eventually many would abandon the idea of receiving justice.

When a leader insists on making or approving every decision, an organizational bottleneck is created. The limiting factor for that organization’s effectiveness becomes the time and attention of the leader.

An interesting thing then often happens. The leaders recognize that they can only do so much. But rather than delegate some of their decision making (often out of a well-intentioned respect for their responsibility), they engineer the system to accommodate for their limited time.

Teams prepare proposals and reports to pre-digest the information for those who have the ability to pull the trigger. It seems sensible: you’re minimizing the time the leaders spend on approving decisions and therefore maximizing what your organization can do.

But this is designing the entire organizational structure around the limitations of the leader. It’s the exact opposite of how leadership should work.

Imagine how many hours the team spends preparing reports to save the leader a few minutes. Imagine what else could have been done with that time and energy. This is the price of micro-management.

Jethro’s advice wasn’t to streamline the court. It wasn’t to appoint people who would summarize the information for Moses so he could render quick verdicts.

Instead, Jethro’s wise counsel was to delegate: to train up leaders who could take a portion of Moses’s authority and participate with him in caring for the nation. Moses could lead instead of holding everyone back.

He could handle his workload. The people wouldn’t be frustrated. Leaders would be trained for greater things. And Justice would be administered.

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