Iyar 5781

What If They Get It Wrong?

Talmudic Wisdom For Delegators And Those Delegated To

By Rabbi David Levin-Kruss

For many, it is hard to delegate. What happens if the work is not done the way I want it to be done? What happens if the person I delegate to does a better job than me and I am no longer needed? For others it is difficult to be delegated to. Will I get it right? Isn’t it easier to defer to my boss all the time? Who am I to be doing this work?

These issues touch on control, insecurity, responsibility and confidence and all of these potential challenges find expression in a concept in the Talmud (Kidushin 41b) called שלוחו של אדם כמותו (shlucho shel adam kemoto). When I appoint an agent that person is equivalent to me and if they do something it is as if I did it myself.

This can only really work if the person doing the delegating trusts the people they are delegating to – both in terms of competence and integrity.  So, first step in successful delegation is to employ staff that have the relevant skills and personal traits to do the job.  This idea is reinforced by the halacha (Jewish law) that somebody who cannot communicate or who is mentally unstable or a minor cannot be as agent (based on Baba Kama 6:4). The person delegated to has to be fully aware and able to do what they are asked to do.

On the other hand, an agent who acts outside or beyond the power given to them does not achieve anything. Their acts are invalid and irrelevant to the person who delegated. Thus, one must be clear with the people one delegates to what the limits are and, similarly, the delegated should be aware of their constraints and act accordingly. This acts to create a structure where both parties know what is expected, what is beyond the limits, and this structure creates security so that both sides can trust each other.

A related concept is אין שליח לדבר עבירה – ein shaliach le-d’var aveira. One cannot appoint a messenger to commit a sin. The sender cannot ask the agent to do something illegal and the person sent cannot do something wrong and then blame it on the boss. Expanding on this a bit, you cannot ask a person entrusted to do something you would not want to do yourself. Both parties need to know their red lines.  While not always easy or possible, ideally if one is asked to do something one is not comfortable with, one’s job is to speak up and this can save the delegation relationship. Another example of how healthy boundaries create structures that work.

The powers of an agent may be canceled at any time. It is not forever. Delegators need to be careful not to get too dependent on the people they have delegated to. And, similarly, person entrusted with a task needs to understand that their own identity is separate from the person who asks them to do something.

Through employing staff who are competent and trusted, making expectations clear, not using one’s delegates to do things one would not do oneself and having healthy boundaries one can create a delegator-delegated relationship that is marked by trust, independence, confidence, and appropriate acceptance of responsibility.