The Importance of Delegation

Principles of Leadership Teachers Manual Religion 180R, (2001), 93–98

“Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: “And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee” (Exodus 18:21–22).

Principle of Leadership

Wise leaders use the principle of delegation to help those they serve meet righteous goals and become more like Jesus Christ.

Lesson Concepts

  1. 1.

    Wise leaders delegate meaningful tasks and responsibilities to those they lead.

Concept 1. Wise Leaders Delegate Meaningful Tasks and Responsibilities to Those They Lead.


During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ delegated responsibilities to His disciples and gave them authority. For example, He commissioned His Apostles to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils” (see Matthew 10:5–8).

The Apostle Paul wrote: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained that after Christ’s Resurrection, “the Twelve … realized that they had not been called to serve tables but, rather, to spread the word of God about the earth. Hence, they wisely delegated the welfare task to others. So the needs of the Greek widows—which were real—were met, but without sacrificing the Twelve’s higher calling [see Acts 6:1–7]” (We Will Prove Them Herewith [1982], 110).

The Prophet Joseph Smith exemplified the principle of delegation. Elder Spencer J. Condie, a member of the Seventy, observed, “A great strength of the Prophet was his ability to delegate and develop leadership skills in those around him” (in Conference Report, Mar.–Apr. 1990, 35; or Ensign, May 1990, 28). Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “A bishop needs to be a skillful delegator, or he will be crushed under the burden of his responsibilities or frustrated at seeing so many of them unfilled” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 29; or Ensign, May 1997, 22).

Church and family leadership can be both joyful and demanding. The Holy Spirit strengthens and renews leaders, but wise leaders delegate responsibilities to the people they serve, because leaders cannot do everything themselves, and because people grow more when they participate.

Elder James E. Faust, who was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, taught: “One of the first principles we must keep in mind is that the work of the Lord goes forward through assignments. Leaders receive and give assignments. This is an important part of the necessary principle of delegating” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1980, 50; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, 34).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, then a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, suggested the following reasons leaders sometimes fail to delegate:

  1. “1.

    We would really rather do it ourselves.

  2. “2.

    We are not really willing to use our time and talents in order to train others so they can help.

  3. “3.

    We dislike asking others to help, forgetting that receiving help is as much a part of the gospel as giving help.

  4. “4.

    We like to feel a bit harried because it gives us a false sense of being noble.

  5. “5.

    We say we are concerned about ‘quality control’ if the task is delegated, and sometimes there is good reason for the concern; other times, however, we actually worry not about tasks being done poorly, but too well.”

Elder Maxwell advised: “The sense we may have at times of being devoured by duty … is at least partially avoidable. … We could, if we chose more often, delegate, thus developing others, including our children, more and, finally, thereby reducing unnecessary burdens on ourselves” (Wherefore Ye Must Press Forward [1977], 99–100).

Elder Sterling W. Sill, who was then an Assistant to the Twelve, wrote: “A leader does not lose his authority nor his responsibility when he delegates it. … He must inspect; he must train; he must encourage; he must supervise the one to whom the responsibility has been given. … Delegation without control is irresponsibility” (Leadership [1958], 213).

Teaching Idea

Ask students to define the word delegate. (“To entrust someone else with a portion of one’s responsibility.”) Discuss how this definition applies to leadership in the Church and family.

Invite students to find examples of delegation in the scriptures. Have them share examples of successful delegation in family or Church settings. Discuss why delegation is an important part of family and Church leadership.

Divide students into small groups. Invite each group to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of delegation. Have them report their findings, and then discuss them as a class.

Invite students to think about how important delegation is to effective leadership. Encourage them to notice how leaders in the Church and in families delegate responsibilities. Invite them to think about which responsibilities leaders can and cannot delegate and why.

Discuss some of the characteristics of successful delegators. For example, successful delegators:

  • Give people clear and specific assignments.

  • Specify what is to be done but not exactly how it should be done.

  • Give people the authority to accomplish their assigned tasks.

  • Train people, if necessary, in the skills they need to be successful.

  • Make available the tools and resources the people need to be successful.

  • Provide appropriate supervision as people work to accomplish their tasks.

  • Give sincere encouragement and support to people when they do well.

  • Make themselves available to give counsel and direction.

  • Provide an opportunity for people to report on their assigned tasks.

Discuss what leaders can do to see that delegated responsibilities are met. Have students read Exodus 18:13–27. Discuss questions such as:

  • What concerns did Jethro have regarding Moses’ leadership?

  • How did Moses respond to Jethro’s concerns?

  • What can we learn about leadership from this experience of Moses?

Read the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson, who was then President of the Quorum of the Twelve: “This is the Lord’s organization through which we operate. We are dealing with voluntary workers—our Father’s children whom he loves, regardless of their mistakes and weaknesses. There must be no force, coercion, or intimidation in our delegation. To be effective, we must seek and obtain the Spirit if we are to delegate wisely” (God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [1974], 130).

Teacher Resources

N. Eldon Tanner