Lesson 30: Learning to Delegate Responsibility

The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B, (2000), 257–62


The purpose of this lesson is to help us learn that wise delegation helps us fulfill our responsibilities.

Importance of Wise Delegation in Leadership

“Many times in my youth I watched Samson, a beautiful, dapple-grey horse with a splendid physique and such height that he seemed to tower above me. But though large, he was gentle and friendly and had such a sweet-tooth that he would shake his head up and down in acknowledgment when he was fed. And everyone loved him.

“Samson was a chain horse and stood daily at the foot of a steep hill waiting for the heavy loads that had to be pulled. Samson always pulled in front of the other horses. When the lorry with the load would come he would prick up his ears and stamp his feet eagerly—it meant an opportunity to show his strength.

“Samson was an exhibitionist. When his keeper led him to the load and attached his chains to the shafts, he did not wait for the other horses—he was a Samson! Head down, knees almost touching the ground, sparks flying from his hooves, he practically pulled the whole weight by himself. He would not allow the other horses to pull their share.

“We asked Samson’s keeper why he was not given a rest from his chain-horse position and put into the shafts like the other horses. He told us that Samson wouldn’t pull when back with the others, because he couldn’t show off there. He wouldn’t co-operate unless he was in front, doing everything by himself.

“One day Samson wasn’t standing at the bottom of the hill, but a strange horse was in his place. I asked tearfully where Samson was and the keeper told me he was dead. He had died of a broken heart—or, in other words, overwork.

“Many leaders are like Samson, wanting all the work and glory for themselves and refusing to co-operate with others. The power of the Church is a combined power—and it is wasted by those who try to pull the whole load alone.

“There’s no place for Samsons in the Church, for wise leaders share responsibility!” (Frederick W. Oates, Millennial Star, Mar. 1959, 129).

If we are wise leaders, we share our leadership load with other people. By delegating certain duties to others, we are actually giving them opportunities to serve. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, gave him important counsel about the purpose of delegating responsibility to other people.

  • Read Exodus 18:13–23. What reasons did Jethro give Moses for delegating responsibility to others? (See verses 18, 21–23.) How do these same reasons apply to you today in fulfilling your callings in the Church?

When we delegate, we authorize others to represent us. We give them power and authority to act for us. In the Church we may ask them to conduct a meeting, read a scripture, tell a story, make decorations, or help in other ways. In our homes we may assign our children to help with meals, cleaning, gardening, or other tasks. We delegate because we know we cannot do everything ourselves. When we delegate, we also provide opportunities for others to grow and to develop their talents.

If we delegate wisely and if we accept the responsibilities that are delegated to us by others, we should be able to work in harmony with them. We should all be able to serve our Heavenly Father better because we will be able to accomplish our work more quickly and efficiently. Wise leaders achieve more satisfying results by calling upon people with different talents and abilities to help them.

Jesus’ Pattern for Delegation

President Ezra Taft Benson told us that “the very foundations of the world were laid by delegated authority. Many times Jesus reminded people that his mission on earth was one through delegated authority. …

“In speaking to the Jews in the synagogue, Jesus told them that he had been delegated by his Father: ‘For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.’ (John 6:38.)” (God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [1974], 133).

Through His teachings and example, Jesus gave us several lessons in how to become wise and effective delegators.

First, Jesus established His Church on a basis of delegated authority. When He was on earth, He called apostles and seventies to help Him direct the affairs of the Church. He also delegated various responsibilities to others. All were to help in building His kingdom and, through their service, develop their own personal abilities. Through delegating, Jesus helped lift and exalt individuals. The Church today operates on the same principle. We help train others in leadership by carefully delegating responsibilities to them. By following Jesus’ pattern we also develop our own ability to delegate and accomplish work.

Second, Jesus outlined the duties and responsibilities of those whom He chose to help Him perform His work. He did not call them to be Apostles and then leave them without instruction. He understood what would be required of them, and He taught them what they were to do. He gave them a vision of the things they could accomplish. He inspired them to see the challenges and rewards of following Him.

  • Why is it important that you help those to whom you delegate responsibility understand the challenges and rewards of their assignments or callings?

  • What can you do to understand that both challenges and rewards come with every calling you receive?

When we delegate responsibilities to others, we should tell them what we expect of them and explain their duties fully. We should follow the example Jesus set when He instructed His Apostles before sending them forth to do His work. “For a season following their ordination the apostles remained with Jesus, being specially trained and instructed by Him for the work then before them; afterward they were specifically charged and sent forth to preach and to administer in the authority of their priesthood” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 228).

  • Why is it important that people understand exactly what is expected of them when they are asked to accomplish a particular task?

Once we have delegated and fully explained to others their duties or assignments, we should then show our confidence in their ability by allowing them freedom to fulfill their responsibilities. We should, however, be available to answer their questions and give assistance as needed.

  • What is a leader’s responsibility once he or she has delegated a duty or an assignment? What is a leader’s responsibility to the person to whom the duty was delegated?

Third, Jesus requested reports from those to whom He gave assignments.

  • Read Mark 6:30. What did the Apostles tell Jesus?

  • Why is it important to receive reports from those to whom we have given responsibilities?

We need to learn from others. Wise leaders will realize that they need to learn from other people who have good ideas and will invite suggestions from them. They will recognize that other people are important and help them feel that they are an important part of the organization or family.

Fourth, Jesus taught by His example that leaders should give praise and reproof in a spirit of love. “When responsibility has been given, the leader does not forget the person assigned nor his assignment. He follows with interest but does not ‘look over the shoulder.’ He gives specific praise when it is deserved. He gives helpful encouragement when needed. When he feels that the job is not being done and a change is needed, he acts with courage and firmness but with kindness. When the tenure of an office has been completed, he gives recognition and thanks” (Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country, 140).

  • Read Matthew 25:23. How can you express your thanks and appreciation to others?

Delegation as a Help for Accomplishing Our Responsibilities

Our callings often require us to fulfill a wide variety of responsibilities. One of the ways we can fulfill them is through wise delegation. As we develop in the Church, we find more opportunities to delegate and perform tasks delegated to us. We must stay within the limits of our own responsibilities and stewardships and not take responsibilities given to someone else.

President N. Eldon Tanner related the following experience about delegating: “My daughter who was stake president of the Relief Society … came to me one day and said, ‘You know, Dad, I just don’t seem to be able to get one of my counselors to accept her responsibilities. I tell her what to do, she agrees to do it, and then I find it isn’t done and I have to go do it myself.’ And I said, ‘You what?’ She said, ‘It’s easier to do it than to get her to do it.’ Well, I sat down and lectured her for a little while and told her … that when you make an assignment, and delegate this authority and then you do the work, you have released them [the other people]. … It is so important that you train them to do their own work” (Relief Society Courses of Study 1976–77, 121–22).

  • What did President Tanner remind his daughter to do as part of delegating? What is the danger in doing the task yourself after you have delegated it to someone else?

Being able to delegate and then wisely step back from doing too much ourselves is especially important to those of us who are mothers. As leaders of our children, we should delegate responsibilities to them within our homes. When children know that certain tasks are theirs and will not be done by anyone else, they will assume more responsibility for getting their work done. A mother who does not allow her children to fulfill the responsibilities she has given them is depriving them of good, necessary learning experiences.

Delegating will lighten the workload in our homes, just as it will in our Church responsibilities. No mother should ever do all the work in her home. Such a thing is not good for us or for our children. We show our love for our children when we give them constructive things to do. There are many things in the home children can do if the mother will plan and organize the household tasks according to the abilities of her children. When given everyday responsibilities, children receive good training and opportunities for development. At the same time, the children help us. When our children share in the appearance and organization of our homes, they become more interested in them.

When we delegate responsibilities to our children, we should remember to keep the tasks at a level the children can perform so that they will be able to experience success and feel good about themselves. We should show our appreciation to them for what they do and praise and encourage them. It is important that we teach our children responsibility, work skills, and dependability.

  • What responsibilities could be delegated to children to prepare them to be parents?

In our homes and in our Church responsibilities, we should be aware of the abilities of others. When our ability is greater than the ability of someone else, we should be kind and helpful. When someone else’s ability is greater than ours, we should be willing to learn from that person. We are wisest when we work to the best of our ability and set a good example for others to follow, always trying to work well with others and encourage them to do their best.

Conclusion

To be successful in leadership responsibilities in our homes, the Church, and our communities, we must learn to delegate. This requires that we be patient, encouraging, and appreciative. We must remember to apply the principles of delegation that Jesus taught, carefully outlining for our people their duties, following their progress, and expressing appreciation for the work they accomplish. When responsibilities and assignments are delegated to us, we must be diligent in using our abilities to complete them successfully. Wise delegation helps us all to accomplish more efficiently the responsibilities we have been given and thus better serve our Father in Heaven.

Challenge

Review the tasks performed in your home. Develop better ways to delegate responsibilities to your children, using the principles taught in this lesson. Consider ways that you may be able to use delegation to help you better accomplish the work you are now responsible for in your Church calling.

Additional Scriptures

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Review lesson 29, “Developing Leadership,” in this manual.

  2. 2.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.