Rights and Responsibilities
© 10 Apr 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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Giving power with duties.


Yesterday I briefly commented on the giving individuals practical authority. Today, I wish to expand that theme. I’ve addresses the similar theme of delegation before.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints each calling comes with a delineated area of authority. When I was an elders’ quorum president I faced this in a very tangible way. I had the authority to make home teaching assignments, asking certain individuals to visit other individuals in the ward and minister to their personal needs. I did not, however, have the authority to dictate how home teachers acted on these assignments. When I disapproved of someone’s execution of the job I could try to persuade them to change, or I could change the assignments completely. Similarly, the stake president to whom I reported could not step on my toes and change home teaching assignments in my quorum. If he disapproved, he could either replace me or persuade me, but not bypass me.

At the other end of the spectrum is the military model. I’ve never served in the military so this paragraph is hearsay. Rank rules, and if I outrank you I can command you. A general can give direct orders to a private, superseding whatever the sergeant may say. Sure, a sergeant is generally permitted some leeway in commanding privates, but this is by permission, not right; there is no power vested in the sergeant directly.

Businesses and governments, insofar as I can observe, lie between vested authority and rank delegation. They also often include a weaker notion of authority than either.

In every case where I’ve seen it, I have preferred the church’s model to any other. There is something empowering about having trust and authority given with the duty and responsibility. There is no boss anymore, no one who can watch over my shoulder: I am free to do it my way, on my schedule, knowing that in the end the responsibility is only mine. It is freeing, empowering, motivating. It makes me feel respected and invested.

As a manager, the church’s model can be a bit nerve-wracking. Letting go of the right to grab the tiller if the ship is going off course requires a leap of faith, an active level of trust not easy to muster. In the church it’s not so bad, because God is there to provide a helping hand. In more secular matters it is less comfortable. Yet in the end, I find myself choosing the church’s model for one simple reason. Isn’t it prideful to believe my mind is the one that should have the last word? Am I not mature enough to trust my employees?

How much power ought to be vest in people is, in my mind, still an open question. Those I have managed have always been solidly good, trustworthy people more likely to ask for guidance than to act astray, making my choice easier. Any thoughts, o reader?

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