Leadership in any guise requires the proper use of delegation to be successful. A board chair leads the board and so needs to understand the principles of delegation and use that skill well. At the same time the board collectively functions as a leadership team and collectively must delegate authority in order to achieve its goals. The chair has to know how to delegate so that he/she functions effectively as chair, and how to facilitate the board’s leadership by assisting them to delegate their authority properly and effectively.
To delegate in this context means to give or commit (duties, powers, etc.) to another as agent or representative or to send, authorize, or elect (a person) as agent or representative. Remember that delegation can be a means both of sharing the load and mentoring others. This is what Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law advised him to do (Exodus 18) so that the people of Israel would be served well and he would be able to survive as leader.
What kinds of actions or responsibilities might you as board chair find it useful to delegate to another person in the board? It probably falls to the chair to plan the annual church board retreat. However, in implementing the plan the chairperson of a church board would be wise to delegate some aspects of the retreat. For example, the chair could ask various members of the board to lead specific worship times during the retreat. You could delegate to another board member the plans for transportation and meals on the road. When it comes to specific presentations about issues, you could delegate their development and presentation to selected, skilled board members.
Or consider the planning necessary for the Annual General Meeting. You might ask the board’s advice about whether to appoint a moderator of the meeting other than yourself so that you have greater freedom during the meeting to speak to issues on behalf of the board or as a board member. Within the normal board operations the taking of minutes usually is delegated to the appointed board secretary. This task is defined carefully, with the necessary authority given to carry out the responsibility well.
When it comes to the board collectively delegating some aspects of its work, again this can take several different forms. If the board decides that it should examine how it completes the performance evaluation of the lead pastor, it may delegate the work of researching such processes and preparing recommendations to an ad hoc committee. The chair will guide the board in determining the mandate for the committee, its timeline, its composition, its use of specific resources, etc.
Some kinds of board work require annual, repeated delegation. The financial review or audit of the agency’s financial operations for the preceding year will be delegated to an accounting firm. The parameters of their work will be established in a written contract reviewed and approved by the board. The chair will assist the board in making these arrangements and ensuring that the required reports can be processed by the board in a timely manner.
It is also the case that the search for a lead pastor often is delegated by the board to a sub-committee. The board will be busy with many other things during this period and it would be wise to appoint a specific search committee with clear mandate to carry forward this work. This committee would be accountable to the board.
Delegation by the board is an important tool that prevents the board from having to deal with every item as a “committee of the whole.” It enables the board to gather good information from those who have specific and pertinent expertise. The board always remains the body that makes any final decision or recommendation.
Sometimes a chairperson may think that delegation requires more effort than its worth. The leader may think no one else has the ability to do this job properly or does not want to take the time to train another person to develop the skill. However, when appropriate delegation is avoided, missed opportunities for equipping others occur. You may discover that the person does the job even better than you could.
Church boards are populated by busy people. The chair may be reluctant to ask another board member to assist for fear of over-burdening that person. However the backside of this may be your own insecurity, i.e. the fear that if you do not do it, you will be perceived as a weak or lazy leader. We need to be bold to ask and recognize that good delegation is the sign of a wise and productive leader.
Effective delegation requires clear instruction, but space for creativity. Define the task, but not necessarily the process. Now it may be that in some things such as a search committee, there are specific processes that the board will require. However, try to keep them to a minimum so that the ad hoc committee can express some innovation in its work. Conversely, if the instructions are insufficient, this will lead to frustration.
Finally, when people complete their work well, give them credit. Thank them publicly for their diligence. This will create harmony within the team and encourage people to accept additional assignments.