Servant Leadership: When is The Right Time to Delegate?

The book of Exodus contains a conversation between Moses and his father-in-law Jethro about one of the most important aspects of leadership, delegation.  Jethro challenges Moses to relieve the burden of being the sole judge for the whole nation. He counsels him to establish laws and appoint trustworthy men to handle the smaller issues of justice.  Jethro claims that if Moses will make these small changes, “God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace” (Ex. 18.23).

Likewise, in the New Testament book of Acts Luke records the history of the office of deacon.  Deacons were selected from among the people to meet an urgent need that was taking the Apostles away from their main duties. Luke records the twelve as saying, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (Acts 6:2-3).

Delegation is one of the most important aspects of servant leadership.  Through delegation leaders are able to focus clearly on the greater needs of the organization or ministry they serve.  Delegation also charges leaders to responsibly recognize the gifts of others in the organization and empower them to accomplish larger tasks. Generally, as a result of good delegation, organizations are able to grow and leadership is multiplied. 


Knowing when to delegate can be an arduous task.  Leaders may feel that the tasks they accomplish quite readily or even with great agitation will suffer under the oversight of someone else.  Some leaders may sense a loss of control by handing responsibilities of a given task over to another individual, even if that individual is a subordinate.  However, the risk of not delegating at the right time is even greater.  Leaders who delegate well are helping their organization in a long term capacity.  Leaders who do not delegate tend to have only a short-term view in mind.

Leaders who do not delegate efficiently are hampering the growth of their organization. Delegation enlarges an organization’s leadership pool.  Therefore, an organization will never grow larger than its leader’s ability to delegate. Oswald Sanders writes in his book Spiritual Leadership, “A one person office can never grow larger than the load one person can carry.”[2]

Both in the case of Moses and the twelve leading disciples the time to delegate came when they could no longer move forward doing what they had been doing.  The time to delegate presented itself in the midst of crisis.  On occasion, a leader will find that he has taken on more tasks than he has time to adequately manage.  When this occurs something inevitably is let go.[3] While a leader may get by with this for a season, after a while, burning the candle at both ends generally leads to burnout and is unhealthy both for the leader and the organization he serves.

When a leader finds that she has too many tasks on her plate for one person to accomplish she should scrutinize her schedule.  Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby write in their book Spiritual Leadership, “The key to successful leadership is not creating more time in one’s life or packing more activities into one’s day, but staying on God’s agenda.”[4] Sometimes a leader will need to say no to items that others would like to place on her agenda. Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby go on to state, “Great leaders don’t allow their busy lives or their vast responsibilities to overwhelm them.  Rather, they become the masters of their schedules through determined and conscience effort.”[5]

When is the right time to delegate?  All the time.  Stay tuned for more on delegation tomorrow.

How about you?  Are you good at delegation? What is the hardest part of delegation for you?

[2] Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1994), 138.

[3] Ibid., 140.

[4] Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership (Nashville: B & H, 2001), 200.

[5] Ibid., 201.

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