Christian Leadership: Delegation
By Garrett Smith
In the fall of 2014, when Nick was starting to House Supervise as the Good Works member of AmeriCorps, my mom and I were volunteers on the night that Nick was in charge of the house. He would run around, trying to do everything all by himself, not asking us for help. We had been volunteering a year, so we knew the ropes and could have been very helpful to him, but I think it was just uncomfortable for him to give us the tasks. For weeks, we would tell him, and tell him again, that he needed to delegate to us. Sometimes we would have to remind him a handful of times in a night. Nick eventually caught on and started to delegate the tasks that where delegable, but it took him a little while.
This winter, when I was training to be a House Supervisor, and later, when I found out I was going to be a House Supervisor for this internship, I started to think about my leadership style. For the winter and spring, I had been in charge of one volunteer, Ruthanna, and I realized that I felt uncomfortable asking her to do pretty much anything. For example, if a resident needed something from downstairs in the basement, I could have asked Ruthanna to do this. However, I often found myself uncomfortable with the idea of asking her to go do it, especially if it was at a time when I didn’t have too many tasks. In that circumstance, it made me feel bad because I felt that it would seem like I was just being lazy. So this sometimes resulted in me doing several things at once and therefore not doing any of them well, at least by my own perception.
This summer, since I have made the transition from only being at the Timothy House for four hours a week to being there around 30 hours a week, I have been in charge of more than one volunteer. In fact, on Thursday nights, I am in charge of a volunteer, an intern, two work retreat members, and all of the residents for chore night. And each of them, with the exception of the work retreat members, has anywhere from one to three chores that they must do, as well as I have a chore of my own. It would, of course, be impossible for me to do all of this by myself. Delegation is just a requirement of the night. This type of delegation, where it’s a built-in part of the structure, is not as difficult for me. It is easier to give out the chores because that is what is expected out of the night, not just by the staff and volunteers, but by the residents as well. It wouldn’t be a chore night if no one was doing chores. Even though the delegation on chore night is by necessity, I’m still not entirely comfortable doing it. But the necessity of doing it has been helping me to learn to be more comfortable with it. My supervisor at the Timothy House has given me the task of making sure that the Timothy House is clean after chore night. That means that I must delegate those chores to residents and volunteers.
Our discussion this past Wednesday, during our leadership development time, was very helpful in this regard. We equated delegation with the spiritual discipline of submission. Those to whom I am delegating are under my authority and therefore are submitting to me, while my act of delegation is an act of submission to those who have authority over me. Since submission is a spiritual discipline, submission to those who have authority can be used as an act of worship. More than submission, the Christian idea of delegation involves an actual trading of authority. When we give out tasks, we also give out some of our authority to the person doing the task. We are entrusting them to do what we are giving them.
This idea of dispensation of authority is very much like when Jesus sent out the twelve disciples in pairs with the authority to banish spirits. In the book of Acts, we read of the time when some of the widows weren’t getting their share of food. In response, the twelve disciples delegated the responsibility to Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, to make sure that everyone was getting a fair share. Like the twelve disciples, I have been given authority by those who have authority over me and I am sent on my way, trusted to do what needs to be done and likewise I entrust the volunteers and residents, like the seven, to do their part. Another example of Jesus’s delegation is the Great Commission. Once again, he gives his authority to his disciples and gives them a task, trusting them to get it done. There is another biblical story, which also deals with this idea of giving authority; the story of the faithful centurion. He felt that he was not fit to be in the presence of Jesus, so he gave some Jewish elders his authority and entrusted them to go to Jesus so that his servant would be healed.
Jesus knew that, in his absence, his disciples would be left in charge of the church and would thus need to handle authority on their own. So he gave his authority to them and delegated tasks to them so that they could grow in their leadership skills. This is true for all delegation. Giving another a task which they can succeed or fail and learn from, allows for them to grow. In community, this means that leaders can be created and grown as the community evolves and grows. Delegation can be bad for community, however, because we have to trust not only that people will do the tasks that they’re given, but also that they know how to do it. That kind of trust can sometimes be difficult and scary and is something that I struggle with. But that kind of leadership development is what some of the residents need. Chore night is an exercise in teaching residents how to do certain cleaning tasks, as well as planting or nurturing the seeds of leadership in them to take that initiative when they move into their own place. This gives them ownership of the house which helps them to gain confidence.
Nick is a very good person and likes to help people. I didn’t know him very well back in 2014, so I didn’t ask from where his hang-ups with delegation originally came. Maybe they had nothing to do with anything I’ve written above or maybe they were the exact same reasons. But his actions parallel my own, in that I struggled with giving out tasks instead of just doing them. Personally, it was because I was concerned that it would look like I was lazy and because I was ultimately responsible for the task anyway, so I wanted to make sure it was done by myself. If it was done poorly, then I had only myself to blame. But this summer, I have learned about some biblical perspectives on delegation. I learned that delegation is an act of authority, while also being an act of submission, and that it is an act of trust. It also gives people the chance to grow and develop leadership skills. This has given me comfort when I struggle with delegating tasks to people under my authority.