Gopher Delegation vs. Stewardship Delegation

Whats Best Next -PermanWe have been looking at “The Art of Making Time”, which is the title of Chapter 17 of Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014). Part of the fifth main section of the book, called “Reduce,” at this point in the book Perman is addressing the problem of cramming our schedule with so much – even good things – that we become unproductive in getting the best things done.

Belonging to the ways of freeing our schedules is the task of delegating, and the last two weeks we have been quoting from this section of the chapter. We do so one more time, where Perman distinguishes between “gopher delegation” and stewardship delegation,” with the latter method being the best way to free up your time.

First, here’s how he describes “gopher delegation”:

…In gopher delegation, you hand people specific tasks as the need arises and are closely involved in supervising how they do them. The other person does not utilize much independent judgment and initiative, but is basically operating in a ‘wait until told’ context. You have something for them to do, and you tell them to do it. Responsibility for the results and methods lies with you, not them. You have not handed off responsibility; the other person is simply doing what they are told.

In this approach, the other person doesn’t grow because this relationship doesn’t require the other person to use their wisdom or judgment or insight. They are treated almost like a tool.

Now contrast this with “stewardship delegation”:

Stewardship delegation, on the other hand, has the aim of not just getting tasks done, but of building others up through the accomplishment of tasks. It is concerned about tasks, but it is equally concerned about the other person. As with good management in general, the aim is not just to get things done, but to develop people in the process. The aim is the effective accomplishment of tasks and the good of the other person.

Stewardship delegation delegates the task – or, more often, an area of responsibility – and allows the individual to determine their own methods for accomplishing the tasks. The focus is on achieving the intended results, not on how they are done (as long as they are done in alignment with the overall guidelines and values). The one delegating hands over true responsibility for the accomplishment of the task to the one being delegated (p.232).

When you look at delegation in this light, it should be clear which is the better way to hand over your work to others so as to free up your time. I appreciate the use of that word “stewardship”, both because it indicates what you are trying to do with your own time (namely, be a better steward of it) and because it indicates what you are teaching the delegated person to do (be a good steward of new tasks and responsibilities).

Which kind of delegation would you like to be involved in? Would you rather be a gopher or a steward?

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