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Post #19 (Jethro) - "You will surely wear yourself out"—Organizational consultancy and delegating

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Note to subscribers: I welcome all subscribers and equally welcome are those who share (via "Comments") how this and any of the posts trigger related experiences or insights that you may have had in your work and life. Also, feel free to forward this blog to anyone who you think might appreciate it. -- Dr. Benny Benjamin

But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” Exodus 18:14.

But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not good; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone" Exodus 18:17–18.

After the Israelites settled into a routine in the Sinai desert, having been saved from the world's largest super power, Jethro, Moses's father-in-law, arrived with Moses's wife and two sons. He listened to all the details that Moses shared and they celebrated together the bounty God had bestowed on the Israelites in Egypt and at the Red Sea. Shortly afterward, Jethro observed Moses's daily procedure of sitting all day in judgment while the people stood wearily, waiting their turn for Moses to resolve conflicts between them. Jethro quickly noted the inefficiency of this procedure for all involved, including the petitioners who need to wait on their feet all day, claiming that "The thing you are doing is not good." [1]

Interestingly, there is one other time when we hear something is "not good" in the Five Books of Moses: "And the Lord God said, 'It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a fitting partner for him.'"[2] In both places––in the creation story and here with Jethro––being alone is not good, and sharing the mission appears to be the optimal path.

Thus, in Jethro's role as an organizational consultant, we note several stages: First, Jethro identifies with Moses, celebrating God's bounty and Moses's leadership (Exodus 18:9–12), establishing trust by being on the same page. To underscore they are on the same page, we notice that Jethro adopts Moses's terminology. Here is how Jethro "talked the talk" with his client:

Jethro appeared to be aware that Moses was hesitant about relinquishing his responsibilities because Moses's relationship with God was unique: Only he could petition God regarding the correct judgment in disputes that come to him. We have yet to hear Moses complain about his workload. Could he have been a workaholic in a position where he felt fulfilled? Jethro assured him that when he appoints judges to assist him, they will still bring the major cases to him to petition God. This is how Jethro, the non-Israelite, introduces his recommendation, mentioning God's name three times, perhaps in an effort to assure Moses that they were on the same page: "Now listen to me, let me advise you; and may God be with you. You speak for the people before God, and bring their concerns to God... " (Exodus 18:19). [3]

At the second stage, then, Jethro observes Moses at work (Exodus 18:13–14), noting Moses’s overload and predicting that he will quickly burn out unless he modifies his current procedures. He also addresses the burden on his petitioners ("you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone")[3]; he then offers Moses his recommendation for organizing a hierarchical judicial system, including suggested criteria for judge selection ("capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain") [4] and how the work should be divided.[5] Jethro summarizes his plan and its benefits,[6] Moses accepts and fully implements the recommendations,[7] and then sends his father-in-law on his way.[8]

Organizational consultancy – Delegating responsibility

Is your boss doing the organization a favor by trusting only herself? Transitioning from the doing role to the leading role has challenged many an ambitious worker, whether assuming a position as CEO or even a temp team leader. These individuals had likely built their reputations on conscientiously performing whatever was needed to get the job done: rolling up their sleeves by putting in extra hours, doing the menial work, making all the phone calls, and designing and disseminating the final report or delivering the final product.

However, an executive hired for a leadership role will now be evaluated on qualities other than those performed in their previous position. These include ensuring all the logistics are covered, the right staff member is matched with the appropriate assignment, and all elements are integrated and executed within a determined time frame, including follow-up. Thus, in the leadership role, delegating responsibility in the workplace will involve assigning responsibility for particular tasks on the manager's behalf and granting the subordinate(s) the authority to perform the task.

Despite an inclination by some to resist delegating responsibility, ("I might as well do this myself!"), this managerial skill is critical for several reasons: It helps ease the burden on the manager; it allows them to devote more energy to the essential matters in their purview; it becomes a tool for time management; it facilitates making the best use of staff members' strengths; by expressing trust in the subordinates, it empowers them, facilitates their growth, and engages them in the organization.

Collaboration encourages strategy discussions and inevitably introduces new ideas; it results in more people on the team being stakeholders in critical tasks and enabling more partners to appreciate success and celebrate it. Conversely, trusting only oneself can accelerate burnout, harm communication with subordinates, and result in minimal engagement in the team's mission. Interestingly, research has found that female managers tend to be more hesitant to delegate responsibility than males and are thus less likely to derive the benefits this management tool can offer.[9]

Career tips:

  • Authority is often confused with responsibility. Whether you are a delegator or a delegatee, be sure to define the assignment's parameters so that both parties will understand the extent of their responsibility, thus avoiding misunderstandings as the project progresses.

  • Some individuals are more trusting of themselves, even to the extent of doing all the work. They may also look forward to reaping the credit and the rewards. Besides running the risk of quick burnout, these people may not know the secret many successful executives have internalized: increasing the number of stakeholders increases the prospects of success (see 'Try this' below).

  • Try this: By increasing the number of collaborators, irrespective of the significance of their contribution, you are adding critical stakeholders who will all be rooting for the success of "their" project. In this move, you will minimize the naysayers and the "Yes, but..." chorus. This way, your achievements will soar. The "catch"? You will still be the leader, but you will need to share accolades with the rest of the stakeholders,[10] a formula for long-term success and enhanced engagement by your staff.

[1] Exodus 18:17. [2] Genesis 2:18.

[3] In another example of how Jethro applied his "client" Moses's terminology: JethroHe came to join Moses after being impressed with how God "brought Israel out of Egypt" (Exodus 18:1), but noticed that Moses used the expression "...and how the Lord had rescued them" (Exodus 18:8). Jethro then proceeded to adopt Moses's term by sharing in his joy: "Blessed be the Lord who has rescued you from Egypt and Pharaoh and rescued the people from the Egyptians' hands," (Exodus 18:10), repeating the variations of the Hebrew root for rescuing-- נ-צ-ל. [4] Exodus 18:18. [5] Exodus 18:21. [6] Exodus 18:22. [7] Exodus 18:23. [8] Exodus 18:24–26. [9] Exodus 18:27 [10] Akinola, M., Martin, A. E., & Phillips, K. W. (2018). To delegate or not to delegate: Gender differences in affective associations and behavioral responses to delegation. Academy of Management Journal, 61(4), 1467–1491.

[11] Recall how the winner of 'Best Director' accepts her Oscar statuette, having memorized an interminable thank-you list.


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