An Ancient Lesson in Delegating

Dear Coach,

One of my goals as an executive is to delegate effectively. Is there a model you recommend?



Dear Phyllis,

Yes, there is. It comes from the Book of Genesis, starting at Chapter 41.[1]

Joseph impresses Pharaoh with his ability to interpret dreams, including that Egypt would enjoy seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine so severe it would leave no trace of the prior abundance. Pharaoh decides that Joseph must lead Egypt out of this predicament. Joseph becomes the dominant figure in Egypt and executes a plan of conservation so successful that “the whole world” eventually comes to Egypt for famine relief.

Pharoah offers a masterclass in how to delegate effectively.

To whom to delegate?

“And Pharaoh said to his ministers, ‘Could we find another like him? … There is none so discerning and wise as [Joseph].’” Before delegating responsibility for preserving Egypt’s future, Pharaoh carefully considers the question of who would be most appropriate to assume this critical task. He doesn’t wing it.

“Let Pharaoh appoint overseers and organize the land of Egypt.” Although Pharaoh has only asked Joseph to interpret his dreams, Joseph goes on to offer a plan for averting disaster. He illustrates an important point: when delegating, look for someone who has shown initiative.

Shared objective

“… so that the land may not perish in the famine.” Both Pharaoh and Joseph are clear about the big picture goal. It’s to save the country from starvation and ruin. From the outset, Pharaoh and Joseph are on the same page as to the purpose of the delegation.

Delegate what, not how

“Let all the food of these good years that are coming be gathered and let the grain be collected.” Joseph lays out a specific conservation plan to prepare for the coming famine. Pharaoh delegates the “what”, but it is Joseph who determines the “how.” In other words, Pharaoh avoids the micromanagement trap.

Empower the delegatee

“You shall be in charge of my court, and by your command shall all my people be directed.” Pharaoh makes clear the fact that he is not only delegating responsibility to Joseph, but also the necessary authority. One accompanies the other. Pharoah avoids another common delegation mistake: delegating responsibility while withholding authority to make decisions.

Make the delegation clear to others

“Pharaoh put his signet ring on Joseph’s hand; and he had him dressed in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.” This passage goes on to state that the heralds proclaim to the people Joseph’s new status. Pharaoh demonstrates an understanding of an essential ingredient of effective delegation—not only must delegator and delegatee know about it, others need to know as well. Pharaoh’s actions ensure that there will be no confusion or misunderstanding regarding Joseph’s new position. The delegation is made clear to all persons whose support, cooperation and assistance will be necessary for the goal to be achieved.

Recognition & Reward

“I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you shall live off the fat of the land.”

Instead of taking credit for himself, Pharaoh shows his savvy leadership in remembering to recognize and reward his subordinate for successfully accomplishing the mission. Give credit where credit is due.


“Not I! God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.” Despite receiving ample recognition and reward, Joseph remains humble. The message to delegatees: Don’t let your success go to your head.

Phyllis, I hope this lesson helps you. Once you master the art and science of delegating, you’ll be amazed at the results!



Jathan Janove is a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching Master Coach and Practice Leader. You can learn more about him here. If you have a question you’d like him to address, please email us at

[1] Dear Reader: Please note that this column is not intended to promote any religion. Rather, I look for sources anywhere I can find them.


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