A part of leadership I wish more people understood.
Yesterday I ran a training meeting for my ward leadership. Mostly paperwork kinds of things, as I am the clerk, but also a bit about leading and counseling. Advice my mother gave me that morning helped clarify that training, a kernel of which, perhaps with a patriotic bend, forms the seed of this post.
A leader is one who delegates. There are other good definitions out there—indeed, I implicitly used a different one myself in a recent post—but this defintion is the one I want to speak to today. A leader is one who delegates, and a good delegation includes the elements of clarity, freedom, and accountability.
Good delegation requires the clear specification of the delegated task. This does not mean the task itself need be particularly clear in definition, but if it is not clear, that very lack of clarity ought to be clear. When I was first called as an assistant stake executive secretary one of my first delegated duties was to decrease the time required to get high council approval on proposed callings. How to do that was completely undefined, but the delegated task was clear. By contrast, a friend of mine was called to serve on a “friendship committee”, and we never did figure out what that meant.
An assignment without freedom isn’t delegation, it’s servitude. That isn’t to say zero-freedom tasks shouldn’t be assigned; what must be done must be done, and service is a good thing. But delegation is accompanied by freedom. You assign someone to place eight chairs around each of ten tables; you delegate them to set up a room to seat eighty. The delegate then has freedom to think and act within that scope.
It is unfortunately true that people oftentimes confuse freedom and lack of clarity. If you meant for there to be ten tables of eight, requesting only seats for eighty is lack of clarity, not freedom.
Every delegate must be held accountable for the tasks delegated. Accountability benefits the both the leader and the delegate. The leader gains confidence that the delegated tasks are being accomplished. The delegate gains temporal clarity, the ability to declare the task completed, and an avenue for addressing unforeseen complications.
Accountability is more important than I can address in this post. Without it freedom is meaningless. Perhaps I’ll revisit this idea in a later post.
One core idea behind democracy is that some elements of governance are delegated to the citizenry. One of the problems that has grown over the two-and-a-third centuries that democracy has been present in the modern world is that the keys of good delegation have faded. I will briefly mention two of the ways this is manifest in the USA today.
It is common to hear people talking about holding elected officials accountable for their actions in (and out of) office. Missing in common discussion is holding the voters accountable for how they utilize their delegated powers. Politicians are unsavory characters because the qualities we vote for are found in unsavory characters.
It is also common to detect a great lack of clarity in all levels of government delegation. The president is not delegated power over budgets, taxes, or economic matters; judges are not delegated legislative power; and citizens are delegated a vote in local politics. Yet conversations clearly indicate that none of these truths are understood by most Americans.
Delegated power to the people is what makes our government great. Let us each do our all to ensure the delegation doesn’t collapse.