Delegation vs. Empowerment: How Do You Lead Leaders?

Delegation vs. Empowerment: How Do You Lead Leaders?

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Delegation creates followers. Empowerment creates leaders. We’re in the midst of a hiring process and as a part of the interview candidates were asked how they felt about delegation. Of course, everyone will say they like to delegate in an interview but as I listened to each candidate answer the same way I began to wonder if it we needed to be asking a different question. I’ve been thinking a lot about these two words lately; delegation and empowerment. Do we delegate? Do we empower? Both?

It’s the old “teach them to fish” kind of thinking, yet it is so much easier to say than do. We all like to give someone else the things we don’t like to do. That’s delegation. Interns are notoriously given those things and look forward to the day when they can push off the unwanted tasks to their intern.  I’m not against delegation, it’s important in leadership and for ministry longevity. We can’t do it all and we shouldn’t. Yet, while delegation is quick, easy, and gets the job done, it also creates a leader dependent culture.  For the leader that needs control, delegation is amazing.  For the follower that needs ownership, it’s devastating.

Empowerment takes time, it’s follow up and follow through, but it creates ownership and investment that pays off down the road.  The challenge of empowerment is that leaders might go off script, take on too much, or might assume they have permission to do things they really don’t – but that is so much better than the leader that doesn’t own anything or try anything.

I sat in the back of the room recently as our middle school group settled in to watch a movie to wind down after an overnight event.  It’s fairly normal for leaders to take the back row seats as kids fill in the front.  In a room of middle schoolers who have stayed up really late, I was curious how this was going to go.  The lights go down, the movie starts, and it’s not long before I start to notice kids getting comfortable and stretching out their legs and leaning on each other. Then, it happened, that moment when the 8th grade boy makes the move on the 8th grade girl. A blanket comes from out of nowhere, chairs are touching, and it’s pretty clear that hands are being held while hormones fly, you can almost see them. You know the moment, it’s pretty innocent, yet we discourage PDA during ministry events. They think they have pulled off a secret moment and I’m watching to see what happens.

In the back row, among the adult leaders, there is a set of high school students who are middle school leaders.  It only took about 3 minutes before I saw one of my 11th grade girls hop up, walk up to the couple and quietly but firmly ask them to not snuggle together under the blanket.  The young couple disconnected while those around them smiled and went back to the movie.

It’s a simple moment, but it hit me. My 11th grade student leader felt empowered enough in leadership to step up and kindly correct the situation while a few adults were honestly too tired to notice.  She didn’t wait for an adult or even look at me with that question of “should I go take care of that?” she just stepped up to take care it.  She owned it.

I’ll say it again, delegation creates followers. Empowerment creates leaders.

Which is more needed in your ministry?

I think we all would agree that empowerment is the goal, we want to build leaders. Again, this is probably the wrong question. We should ask, are you willing to share areas of ministry, give up some control, so that others can grow, lead, and become? I’m asking, can you be OK with someone doing something a bit differently than you might have done it but owned it, ran it, built it, and loved it.

Jesus delegated, but he had a plan. First, he invited.  Follow Me.  Then, Jesus delegated – pass out the food, throw the net, pour the wine. But, he closed with empowerment – go out in twos, baptize, you will do greater things than I.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.  Luke 10:1

Everyone delegates in some way; not everyone empowers. When we take the time to empower, it changes the investment. Jesus started with an invitation, gave tasks, and through training and direction empowered disciples to become apostles.

There were many weeks of input, follow through, and training yet that high school junior owns ministry. As she heads into her senior year, we know we have a great middle school leader ready to lead others. As you look toward next fall, I would encourage you to create an empowerment plan.  How can you move leaders from delegated volunteers to empowered owners? It’s worth the investment.

The seventy-two returned with joy…Luke 10:17


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