Shortly after joining up with Klal Yisrael in the Midbar, Yisro performs a critical, even scathing, analysis of Moshe Rabbeinu’s methods of judgment. Worried that Moshe’s approach will wear him down, Yisro insists that Moshe delegate much of his responsibilities to other capable individuals to assist him in meeting the people’s many needs.
Moshe’s father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out ,both you and these people who are with you, for the matter is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will advise you, and may the L-rd be with you… You shall choose out of the entire nation wealthy men (i.e., who do not have to flatter or show favoritism — Rashi, ibid., citing Mechilta), G-d-fearers, men of truth (i.e., who keep their promises), who hate monetary gain (i.e., who hate to have their own property in litigation), and you shall appoint over (the Jewish people) leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens… If you do this thing, and the L-rd commands you, you will be able to survive…” Moshe obeyed his father-in-law and he did all that he said. (Shemos 18:17–24)
Yisro was teaching Moshe the skill and value of delegation. He understood the need for the Jewish leader to transfer certain responsibilities to others in order to alleviate some of the burden of instruction and judgment. The passuk informs us that Moshe wholeheartedly agreed and began the process of implementation.
As a prerequisite for such transference, Yisro made plain the requirement to closely scrutinize each potential appointee’s credentials as well as his character. He understood that if he is going to be able to reduce the nation’s dependency on his son-in-law, he would first have to assure Moshe that he was able to entrust this sacred mission to others. It was absolutely untenable to either man to consider that someone who represented Hashem’s law could be open to accusations of greed or corruption. Only men of unquestionable moral fiber who were above the lure of economic and political gain would do.
Trust is one crucial element to effective delegation and teamwork. There are many other considerations that leaders should bear in mind when thinking about handing over responsibilities to others. These include:
Decide what to delegate. Start with a small project or one that doesn’t have to be completed in a specific way. This keeps the temperature low and the end goal in close sight. Leave ample time for mistakes. They will invariably occur, and that needs to be factored in from the outset.
Pick the right person or group. Take time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the members of your team. Select those that you’re confident can do the job well. They should be self-motivated and comfortable working without constant supervision.
Get buy-in: Be sure to secure their agreement to assume this task. The last thing you want is to task someone with a job that they really resent or feel ill-equipped to perform.
Provide clarity about the assignment and the expected outcome: Include timelines and deliverables and provide a template or guidelines for the project. The more that you can spell out the intent in detail, the less the risk of subsequent confusion or error.
Grant the necessary authority: Supply the necessary power and leeway for your coworker to find the best approach on his own. This increases his creativity and initiative while boosting his self-esteem.
Be prepared to assist: Rolling up your own sleeves and sharing in their task can go a long way in demonstrating care and support. You may need to delegate the task as a whole, but can often still assist here or there. Also, make sure to offer proper training to build skill and efficacy for the task designees.
Monitor progress: Stay on top of things and correct/redirect when necessary. This motivates colleagues (who don’t feel abandoned) and helps you catch problems early. Obviously, inexperienced colleagues will need tighter control than seasoned veterans.
Recognize key milestones and celebrate successes: Anything from a simple “thank you” or “well done” to arranging for awards, gifts or bonuses. Share any rewards or accolades for the project that you may receive.
Of course, any detailed process must be reviewed for the purpose of future learning. Ask yourselves what contributed most to the outcome and what you could have done differently to make the process even smoother and more successful.
A recent study published in the Gallup Business Journal confirmed Yisro’s initial position. It found that the most cohesive and successful teams possess broader groupings of strengths, rather than one dominant leader who tries to do everything, or individuals who all have similar strengths.
The process of building a well-informed and properly trained team allows leaders to harness various talents and perspectives for the collective good. It may be challenging at first, but will pay great dividends over time while also alleviating some of the crushing burden that often rests on a leader’s shoulders.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is a writer, teacher, executive coach and leadership aficionado who lives in Passaic, NJ. He can be contacted at email@example.com.