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Diana Mora The Challenge of Leadership Effectiveness: Delegation

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Leadership:  "The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he/she wants to do it"  

                                      -Dwight D. Eisenhower


Delegation is a two-edged sword.  

One the one hand, it’s a great way to empower one of your team members by giving him/her a project or task that will stretch creativity, foster growth, and add dimension to his/her abilities.  On the other hand, delegation often adds more stress to an already overworked employee. 

“Multi-tasking” is the standard for the new millennium.  Look at the employment section of any newspaper in the country, and you’re sure to find that word in many job descriptions.  With leaner workforces, employees are expected to wear many hats and to take on many projects and more workloads.  Multi-tasking is now simply part of the work culture and delegating plays an enormous role.  

  • A leader must decide what to delegate, how much, when, and to whom.  

    A leader must be objective and ask him/herself these questions:

“Am I giving this project away because I don’t want to do it?”  

“Am I keeping this project because I like doing it?”  

"Am I doing this task because I don’t trust anyone else to do it?”

“Am I avoiding training someone else to do this project because it will take too much time?”

“Do I really want to help my team members feel empowered and motivated by delegating projects and tasks that will help them develop and grow in their job/careers?”  


Delegation is the successful transfer of authority to someone else.  

Note the word  “authority.”  When a supervisor/manager delegates a project or task, some very important factors are involved two of which are:

1.     Information – all that is needed to get started and the resources to find more information and data.

2.     Authority – the ability to act on the leader’s behalf.  This also includes the responsibility and the accountability for implementing and completing the assignment.

Advantages of Delegation 

As effective leaders know, adults love challenge…oh, they might grumble and complain a bit at first about the extra work, but with the right explanation, encouragement, and support, they feel they are doing meaningful work.  One advantage of delegation is to keep high performing team members interested and to raise the level of low performers.  The trick is to identify those project and tasks that are appropriate for both types.  An effective leader is “tuned into” each team member and is able to delegate the right assignment to the appropriate person.  

Delegation is a wonderful tool of efficiency.  Once a supervisor/manager feels comfortable with delegating, the rewards will reveal themselves because:  Delegation is one way of working smarter not harder!  

Other advantages of delegation are:

-        Managers can take on more responsibilities by delegating tasks to subordinates.

-        Employees close to the “front line” usually have a clearer view of the facts; this leads to better problem solving and decisions.

-        Delegating speeds up decision making when subordinates are authorized to make decisions.  This leads to using better judgment and accepting responsibilities, leading to self-confidence and better initiative.  

Guidelines for Successful Delegation 

1.       Establish Measurable and Concrete Objectives.

This is the map.  The leader can clearly know all the steps and some of the problems involved in the assignment by laying out the objectives or goals at the beginning.  This helps in determining the best person for the job.  The leader delivers all the needed information, stressing the importance and the seriousness of the task.  Be prepared for questions.  Also, schedule ample time for this crucial initial meeting.  

2.       Develop and Discuss the Reporting System.

This is the feedback leaders need to track progress.  It should be clear and specific:  What do you want, how do you want it, and when?  Make sure your expectations are clear.  The reporting system must be user-friendly and clear to the team member doing the project.  Check to see if additional training is needed, i.e., Excel, Access, etc.  

3.       Have a Realistic Deadline.

This is the completion date.  Consider the factors of time and resources; your thinking should be objective and realistic or your team member will experience frustration and stress by feeling rushed.  Long and complicated projects need clear checkpoints along the timeline.  

4.       Pick the Right Person.

This is knowing your team members.  It’s always easy to pick the willing person or the high performer who never lets you down.  Instead, consider the difficult person or the low performer who has potential.  A leader instinctively knows more time, support, and training is needed for some people, and the rewards in these cases will be greater with increased self-esteem.  Also, it’s important to be sure there are no underlying motives on your part against the person you choose, especially if it’s an assignment that’s unpleasant or very difficult.  Resist the temptation to “get even” with someone by giving him/her a bad assignment; this behavior will undermine a leader’s trust and credibility.

5.       Stress the Results – Not the Details.

This will keep you sane.  If the assignment has clear objectives, reporting systems, and deadline and if the information and authority has been delegated correctly, this rule should prevent a leader from listening to every detail of the project.  After all, it was delegated just so every detail would not be time consuming for the supervisor/manager.  If the leader has appointed a novice to head the project, more time for one-on-ones is needed.  The leader uses mentoring and coaching skills to gently remind the person of the authority and responsibility he/she has to handle all the details of the project.

          6.       Delegating the Right Amount of Authority.

This tells your person how far they can go on your behalf.  The authority delegated should be clear and the boundaries well defined:  

Take action. No further contact with me is necessary. (Usually a short project or small task)

Take action and stay in touch.  Let me know by written report or an informal meeting what you did.

Look into this problem.  Report back to me with your intentions before implementing any action.

Look into this problem and put together an action plan with a time frame.  Report back to me for my approval.

Look into this problem and put together alternative action plans with your recommendations.  Delay implementation until you get the go ahead from me.  (Usually needs a written report and approval from upper management.)

Look into this situation.  Give me all the facts.  I’ll decide what to do.  (Usually needs investigation of facts, no recommendations; should be able to draw conclusions from the report.)

7.       Don’t Solve All the Problems.

This will instill empowerment and motivation.  Adults have a natural tendency to problem solve.  Leaders know they must allow their people to solve problems with creativity and hands-on trial and error.  Leaders must resist the urge to give all the answers because they know adults learn best by their mistakes.  Leaders let people “fail” – every “misteak”* is an opportunity to increase competence and self-esteem.  This builds empowerment and positive attitudes and avoids finger pointing and an “who’s to blame” attitude.  Everyone benefits when failures are overcome with successes.

            8.       Reward a Job Well Done!

Celebrate success!  Depending on the size of the project or task, the amount of praise is important.  Whether it’s a pat on the back or a team party, effective leaders pick the appropriate celebration and take the time to note the success.  This will motivate others and promote a willingness to take on more assignments.  Also, this is an opportunity for a leader to share the lessons learned, the obstacles overcome, and the problems solved.  In addition, it’s a good tool for individual performance evaluation.  

Problems of Delegation 

There can be many problems with delegating.  The first step in solving these problems is identifying the barriers.  (Look at these situations closely and see if any pertain to you.)

-         Reluctance of a supervisor/manager to delegate.  Usually it is due to thinking such as :  “I can do it better”; “My team members are not able or trained”; “It will take me more time to explain what needs to be done than it will for me to do it.”

-         Insecurity of supervisor/manager to delegate.  This is simply a fear of loss of power.  Other reasons:  being accountable for the poor performance of team members which could reflect negatively on the leader; the team member may do the project better than the supervisor/manager; being too disorganized to plan ahead and set up reporting system.

-         Lack of confidence of supervisor/manager in delegating.  Some leaders are not comfortable training or teaching others.  On the other hand, some supervisors/managers have a superiority complex and think no one could possibly know as much.

-         Reluctance on the part of the team members to accept assignments delegated to them.  Some want the boss to make all the decisions.  Others fear the possible criticism or negative feedback they may receive.  Still others just don’t want the stress of working harder or there just isn’t the incentive in place to make getting assignments attractive.  

Overcoming Barriers to Delegation 

Truly effective leaders are willing to give the freedom and authority to their team through delegation.  Leaders know there are many different ways to solve a problem even though it might not be the same solution the leader has in mind.  Leaders know about synergy and want to achieve a high level through group/team problem solving by improving communication and mutual understanding.  The team begins to feel support and appreciation through recognition of a job well done.  Over time, a leader increases the number and complexity of these assignments, challenging his/her team members.  A leader knows the value of continuous training and improvement for successful contributions to a company’s overall production and growth.  

Stephen Covey: 

Principle-Centered Leadership



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In this book, Covey gives real insight into leadership effectiveness and personal development.  The following is his thoughts on delegating:  

Involve people in meaningful projects.  Meaningful projects have a healing influence on people.  However, what is meaningful to a manager may be meaningless to a subordinate.  Projects take on meaning when people are involved in the planning and thinking processes.  We all need to be engaged in a good cause.  Without such projects, life loses its meaning; in fact, the life span is short for people who retire, looking for a tensionless state.  Life is sustained by tension between where we are now and where we want to be-some goal worth struggling for.”  

Delegate effectively.  Effective delegation takes emotional courage as we allow, to one degree or another, others to make mistakes on our time, money, and good name.  This courage consists of patience, self-control, faith in the potential of others, and respect for individual differences.  Effective delegation must be two-way:  responsibility given, responsibility received.  There are three phases.  First, the initial agreement.  People have a clear understanding of what is expected and what the resources, authority, latitude, and guidelines are.  Second, sustaining the delegates.  The supervisor becomes a source of help, the advocate, not the feared adversary.  He provides resources, removes obstacles, sustains actions and decisions, gives vision, provides training, and shares feedback.  Third, the accountability process.  This is largely one of self-evaluation, since delegates are supervised by results, by actual performance.” At all times show people you are there to provide all the support. Team work is a synergy, we are a team to achieve better results  

In conclusion, if delegating is new to you, be courageous and start small. Remember, you will make some “misteaks”* and have much success.  Lead from your heart and use your head.  I can speak from experience it always works!    

* Word -mistake- deliberately misspelled 


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