Several years ago, the Canadian government was procuring a $600 million satellite program. Our company was the expert on all the ground infrastructure for the satellite, and we aimed to do that work under another company that undoubtedly would win the overall satellite program. However, that company would not agree to team with us, electing instead to do our work—effectively putting us out of that business.

As CEO, I was leading this important effort. Unable to negotiate with the satellite company for our share or to think of another solution, I delegated the problem to our top two marketing people. Their solution was not to negotiate but instead for us to do the satellite work ourselves, in addition to all the groundwork.

At first, it seemed impossible to take such a leap, but in the end, we took it, won, and became the satellite provider. Had I not delegated the task, that innovative solution wouldn’t have emerged. But when some of the marketing team were put in charge, they came up with a solution that the rest of us incorrectly believed to be impossible.

Moses Learns to Delegate

After the Exodus from Egypt, Moses’ father‑in‑law, Jethro, hears of the great miracles that G‑d performed for the children of Israel and comes from his native Midian to the Israelites’ desert encampment. On arrival, Jethro watches Moses act as the sole judge in all legal and ethical cases for everyone. With millions of people—and presumably hundreds of disputes and legal questions each day—people must wait from morning to evening for their cases to be resolved. Jethro finds this system dysfunctional. Unsolicited, he tells Moses that such a system places a great burden on one person’s shoulders and will eventually wear Moses down. He then advises Moses to appoint a hierarchy of wise and righteous judges, and to delegate his responsibilities, with Moses presiding only over the most difficult cases:

But you shall choose out of the entire nation men of substance, G‑d fearers, men of truth, who hate monetary gain, and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens. And they shall judge the people at all times, and it shall be that any major matter they shall bring to you, and they themselves shall judge every minor matter, thereby making it easier for you, and they shall bear [the burden] with you. If you do this thing, and the L‑rd commands you, you will be able to survive, and also, all this people will come upon their place in peace.1

Moses was aware of the option to delegate, but until Jethro came and advised him to do so, he chose not to. Moses believed he had to do it all—as the leader, his job was to lead, and he faithfully did. That this was difficult was not reason enough to hand over parts of the job to other people. He thought that to be most effective, he had to inspire and guide the nation personally. He also assumed that since he had greater authority, people were more likely to listen to him than to an appointee.

Jethro convinced him to delegate. What was his persuasive argument? Why did Moses change his mind? Because he understood that not only was he unburdening himself, but more importantly, he was helping the people, particularly the ones who would now also be in key leadership positions. That’s what the text means by “all this people will come upon their place in peace.”

When you delegate thoughtfully, you turn delegates into partners, not just employees. By sharing the burden and allowing others to take on parts of the job as their own, you engage them as investors—they become invested in the outcome. When you delegate correctly, bearing in mind each person’s talents, strengths, and personality, you create a stronger team and company. The goal is not to have “soldiers,” employees who can only take directions, but to build “partners,” employees who care about and can contribute to the company’s well‑being. The key is sharing your vision and general guidelines, and allowing employees to process and analyze these to make them theirs too. Give your employees enough information for them to understand the vision, but leave sufficient space for their input and creativity.

In conclusion

While often we see delegation as a way to have others do what we can’t, it’s also a tool for changing the dynamic of a relationship. By delegating, we include others, inviting them to collaborate with us and thus opening a project to greater potential. Allowing others to share in the responsibility and vision includes them as partners. Instead of regarding delegation as a last resort or concession, see it as an opportunity to include others in a project’s success.