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In my time I’ve seen some great examples of how delegation does and does not work.
Here are some practices that bring about spectacular failures.
- Handing on the baton in a relay race. An example would be a CEO who devises a strategy with his/her executive team and then hands it on to the rest of the organization to get it done. The pretext for this mindset could be found in statements like “I’m a big picture person and don’t do details.”
- Getting others to do your work for you. It is not that the leader is necessarily lazy or avoiding responsibility but she views her primary task to be different from being too hands on. Sure when the leader gets into the weeds he disempowers people. But micro managing should not be confused with intelligent leader involvement.
- Talking about strategy but not executing well. I heard of a CEO who was making a presentation to his executive board on the topic of the organization falling far short of its business goals. He showed a slide of the corporate strategy with these words “We looked at this slide eight years ago. When are going to stop talking and start doing?” There had been all sorts of “delegation” but no real execution. And the situation had persisted for 8 years. No wonder the company was in trouble.
The good news is that delegation can work. Here are some best practices that illustrate how it can be a fundamental and effective leadership skill.
- Deciding/Working together. This seems so basic but telling others what to do is not the most prudent and effective way to delegate. It stifles the ability of employees to think for themselves. They have to be involved in the decision-making process in order to “own” the task.
- Requiring accountably. Effective leaders ensure that everyone is accountable by acting on group decisions on a timetable, having milestones, and requiring measurable action steps and results.
- Staying informed. A key to good delegation is that the leader knows what is going on in the trenches. It may not be the leader’s domain of expertise. However, she knows how to probe/ask the right questions to see if people are doing their jobs effectively in order to meet the business goals. A great delegator masters the art of questioning and is not afraid of the truth.
- Assigning prudently. Often leaders are given responsibilities based on tenure, friendship, or even seniority. The issue is “If you cant get the job done get out of the way.” This is a case of up (for the task) or out.
- Choosing people for the future. An essential part of delegation is that the leader knows whether she has the right people for the future of the organization. He chooses people with the skills and values that will take the organization into the future and realize the strategy both then and now.
- Moving beyond silos. A great leader does not delegate in a vacuum. She sees how the whole organization needs to work together to realize the corporate vision. Delegation is not to silos. A task cannot be given to HR without consideration of what is going on in engineering or marketing.
Leaders who cannot work through others cause their organizations to thrash around unnecessarily and ultimately fail. They may have the brightest ideas in the world. But if they don’t execute on them they have failed.
So let’s get delegation right.
What worst and best practices have you seen from delegation?