Lesson 1: (Yitro) – “You will surely wear yourself out”— Consultancy and delegating


Course: Exodus – Part 2
Lesson #1 of 4

Series: The Bible at Work: Career Coaching in the Torah

Teacher: Dr. Benny Benjamin

20Views | Published: February 6, 2023 | Revised: February 14, 2023

“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

“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.


When the Israelites settled into a routine in the Sinai desert, Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, arrived with Moses’s wife and two sons, rejoicing at all the bounty God had bestowed on the Israelites in Egypt and at the Red Sea. After celebrating with Moses, Jethro noticed Moses’s daily procedure of sitting all day in judgment while the people stood, waiting their turn for Moses to resolve conflicts between them. Jethro quickly noted the inefficiency of this procedure for all involved, 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; 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 work procedures. Jethro 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 recommendations 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 implements the recommendations,[7] and then sends his father-in-law on his way.[8]

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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 ambitious workers, 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 appreciated for qualities other than those performed in their previous position. These include ensuring all the project’s 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]


Points to Ponder:

  • 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] formula for long-term success, and enhanced engagement by your staff. 

[1] Exodus 18:17.
[2] Genesis 2:18.
[3] Exodus 18:18.
[4] Exodus 18:21.
[5] Exodus 18:22.
[6] Exodus 18:23.
[7] Exodus 18:24–26.
[8] Exodus 18:27
[9] 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.
[10] Recall how the ‘Best Director’ accepts her Oscar statuette, having memorized an interminable thank-you list.

 

 

 

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