A key aspect of leadership—whether in business, politics or religious circles—is delegation. A leader—head of an organization, a religious superior, the general manager of company, or a minister—must know what to delegate and what not to delegate.
WHAT TO DELEGATE
There are three responsibilities which a wise leader will do well to delegate: Routine, Trivia and Specialized Jobs.
1. Routine: Every organization has some routine jobs: time-tables, submitting tax returns, signing vouchers, advertising new recruitments, waste disposal, etc., which are done year after year or even more frequently. The head of the organization—CEO, provincial, religious superior—need not personally see to them. Someone deputed to these tasks who knows the routine can very well look after them. Then the leader is spared to do the really key tasks.
2. Trivia: Every task is of equal importance. There are many details in every institution which practically anyone can do: ringing the bell, making sure the gates are closed, distribution of minor sums of money, etc. It would be a waste of precious time for the leader to keep such matters in one’s hands.
3. Specialized Jobs: If you are the superior of a community or society that runs a hospital, it would be foolish to give directions to the surgeons about surgery or to the lab technicians how to do the tests. These are jobs requiring specialized competence. It is best to follow the advice of specialists and leave the crucial decisions to them.
WHAT NOT TO DELEGATE:
Studies and experience show that there are five key areas of responsibility where a good leader should not delegate. He or she must be personally involved. The leader’s presence or absence makes a significant difference.
Which are these five key areas?
1. Policy Matters: While the details of administration can, and often should, be delegated, the leader must be personally involved in policy matters. An organization does not make or change policies every day. One of the leader’s key responsibilities is to make sure that his team sticks to the policies.
St. Joseph’s School, run by a Catholic religious order, has a policy to admit all the Catholics who apply, with a preference for Dalits and tribals from the area. The present principal is not keen on this, and wants to admit the children of some businessmen who have helped him. He is planning to admit these richer children, although it goes against the stated policy of the school. In this case, the superior of the religious community has to make sure that the policy of the religious order is followed. The school does not belong to the principal; it belongs to the religious order. A principal has no authority to change the policies. Otherwise, the policy will remain a dead letter, while each principal changes it according to one’s personal preferences.
2. Personnel Matters: Sister Joan has health problems because of which she cannot stay in the hills. Sister Marianne needs to go home now and then, to help her sister look after their mother who is aged and bed-ridden. Sister Patricia works for the diocese, and needs to stay within reasonable distance of her office in the bishop’s house. Sister Carmen is doing her M.A. privately, and needs time to study, especially during the summer holidays.
In assigning the sisters to different houses, the provincial has to keep these situations in mind. She cannot simply leave it to her secretary to make the list of appointments. No, she must personally take care to allot each sister to that ministry and place, which, before God, she sees as the best for that person. A superior cannot “play chess” with people. Appointing the right person to the right place, and keeping the needs and limitations of each one in mind while doing it, is one of the chief responsibilities of a superior.
3. Confidential Matters:
Suppose I am facing a tough family situation, as for example, divorce, combined with serious financial problems. I need to apply for leave. I do not want everyone to know my problems. So, I want to meet the director and explain my situation confidentially, so that he will understand me, and help me out. When I ask for an appointment, a good leader will make sure to find some time for me. This is not only a basic right, but also good for the organization. When members or employees see that those on top understand and care for them, they will be more committed to the goals of the organization. This is true in secular as well as religious settings. When we treat every person as a human being, not as a cog in the wheel, and listen to them in difficult moments, their loyalty increases. People will feel they belong to the organization.
4. Crises: A school principal was accused—falsely, it turned out later—of sexually abusing a student. Hearing the rumour, members of a particular political party attacked the school, and threatened the principal, who was gheraoed, and not allowed to move out.
When he got this news, the bishop of the place went to the school to find out what had happened, and to assure everyone concerned that there would be a proper investigation. This calmed the turbulent waters, and people accepted the bishop’s promise.
To be close to your subordinates in moments of crisis is a mark of good leadership.
5. Rituals: Father Richard, a diocesan priest whose brother belonged to a local religious order, and whom many of the religious knew, died. At the funeral, there was no one from the provincial council of that religious order. This upset the bishop and the diocesan priests very much, and caused a rift between the religious order and the diocese.
Rituals, such as funerals, weddings, professions and jubilees, matter in the lives of people. If you are the leader—religious superior, principal, manager of the institution, head of the political party, etc.—your presence at these events makes a difference.
It is unrealistic, of course, for people to expect the leader’s presence at every wedding or birthday, but, using common sense and judging the degree of closeness, the leader needs to be present. Absence at significant rituals will disappoint and hurt people.
Present at such public events is also a way of connecting with the people, since large numbers of people tend to take part in such functions.
– Fr. Joe Mannath SDB is the National Secretary of CRI and the editor of this magazine
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